In Our Opinion: Affordable Housing Not Affordable Enough
Dec 17, 2008 | 3506 views | 0 0 comments | 55 55 recommendations | email to a friend | print


When the proposed City Point development on the site of the former Albee Square Mall is built it will be the tallest building in Brooklyn.

The sheer size and scope of the project has drawn considerable attention- most recently from public interest organizations and neighborhood residents who contend the planned mixed-use 65-story residential luxury apartment tower and commercial center does not include enough affordable housing.

At last week’s public hearing on the project, city officials were criticized for selling city land beneath the former mall site to a developer intent on building apartments for the rich.

The luxury development will replace a popular shopping center, which opened in 1980 as the Albee Square Mall and was soon thereafter immortalized in a song by the rapper Biz Markie. Over the course of the following two-plus decades the mall fell into disrepair, was bought and sold, and even renamed several times, but never lost its appeal to the tens of millions of Brooklyn and Queens shoppers who frequent the Fulton Street commercial district every year.

More than the loss of favorite small businesses, however, Fort Greene and Downtown Brooklyn community members are afraid they are losing the character of their neighborhoods- and their ability to afford living in them- to large-scale housing developments like City Point that cater to more affluent New Yorkers.

In theory the city, which instigated this conflict four years ago when Mayor Bloomberg rezoned Downtown Brooklyn, has safeguards in place to avoid these problems.

A principal one is the Taxable 80/20 program. This program, administered by the city’s Housing Development Corporation (HDC), incentives developers to rent at least one-fifth of their apartments at below-market rates to lower-income people by offering builders tax-exempt bonds to help finance their projects.

Albee Residential Development corporation, which will build City Point, has set aside 200 of its 800 planned apartments as affordable housing. In return, it is asking the city for $400 million in tax-exempt bonds.

The enormous request, especially during an economic recession, points to the flaws in the city’s affordable housing policy programs.

The term affordable housing is misleading because it isn’t really affordable. The HDC uses federal housing guidelines based on the greater New York area’s average median income (AMI) to determine affordable housing eligibility requirements.

New York’s annual AMI is $76,800 per household. Families of four are eligible for affordable housing if they make a combined income of no more than half the AMI, or $38,400. In the community district where the City Point site is located, average annual household income is four thousand dollars less. Though this means most residents should be eligible, it is clear many simply don’t make enough money to qualify.

Secondly, the 80/20 split shows whose side the city is really on. Alternative city housing policy using a more creative combination of city, state and federal funding could allow developers to significantly increase the affordable housing percentages in new constructions while still turning a sizeable profit. Instead, at City Point and elsewhere, a mere one-fifth of new apartments are set aside for lower-income people- apartments that are proving to be too expensive anyway.

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