Prospect Heights

Game clock ticking on affordable housing at Brooklyn’s Pacific Park

August 5, 2019 Claudia Irizarry Aponte and Rachel Holliday Smith, THE CITY
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This story was originally published on Aug. 5, 2019, by THE CITY.

The vast real estate development Pacific Park is sprouting apartment towers in the thick of Brooklyn’s building boom — but not fast enough to deliver promised affordable housing on time, local leaders warn.

Developer Forest City Ratner (now Greenland Forest City Partners) made a deal with the state five years ago to create 2,250 units of affordable housing by mid-2025, after failing to hit earlier targets on the project originally known as Atlantic Yards.

So far, 782 have been completed. Another 94 will come online in a building now under construction, while approximately 200 units will be housed in two buildings set to rise early next year, minutes from a March presentation to the project’s oversight board show. Additionally, 258 units at a tower that broke ground in April are slated to be affordable.

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Related: Brooklyn lawmakers seek Pacific Park affordable housing schedule

“I don’t think they’ll meet the benchmark by 2025,” Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon (D-Brooklyn) told THE CITY.

“I don’t think that’s possible,” added Simon, whose district includes the project. “That hasn’t been publicly acknowledged.”

She also called on the development group to be more forthcoming on progress of the complex, whose completion will depend on constructing a costly platform atop a railyard.

A political platform

In the 2014 deal, Forest City Ratner vowed to expedite affordable housing for the 17-building development, under threat of a lawsuit from neighborhood groups that alleged the firm had broken faith with a community benefits pact signed nearly a decade earlier.

In all, 35 percent of the development’s apartments are to be set aside as affordable.

Several of the 11 buildings yet to be constructed will have to await a costly platform set above a state-owned railyard. The platform is still in the design phase, the developer’s representative told the directors of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation, a local oversight body, last month.

Related: Atlantic Yards’ below-ground gym postponed for above-ground review

The developer promised to get the 2,250 units built by the deadline or incur fines of $2,000 per apartment, per month. The do-over agreement also requires affordable housing to be built at the same pace as other apartments, if not quicker.

Last summer, Greenland Forest City Partners acknowledged Pacific Park likely would not be completed until 2035 — but insisted the affordable housing goal would be reached on time, reported local watchdog journalist Norman Oder of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Report.

A spokesperson for Empire State Development Corporation — the state agency that oversees Pacific Park — said Greenland’s obligations remain non-negotiable.

“Pacific Park will deliver critically needed affordable housing to Brooklyn,” said agency spokesperson Jack Sterne. “The project developer made a legally binding commitment to deliver 2,250 units of affordable housing by 2025 — and we will hold them to that.”

New kids on the block

Simon and other local officials worry that ESD’s seemingly simple vow could be complicated by Greenland’s leasing of three of its parcels to other developers, the Brodsky Organization and TF Cornerstone, over the last year.

In May, Simon, state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery (D-Brooklyn) and Assemblymember Walter Mosley (D-Brooklyn) wrote to Empire State Development President Howard Zemsky asking how the terms of the affordable housing agreement would be enforced for developers other than Greenland. That letter was first reported by Oder.

Empire State Development indicated in a memo to the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation that it has the power to hold the two new developers to the affordable housing targets, corporation board member Gib Veconi noted at a July 22 meeting.

It had not yet produced documentation proving that, he indicated.

Meanwhile, turmoil in Albany over a tax abatement Pacific Park depends on also slowed and complicated development.

When the dust settled in 2016, a revamped version of the program forced reshuffling of planned affordable apartments among buildings within the complex. That’s because of a new requirement that at least 25 percent of apartments in every building receiving the tax relief be set aside as affordable.

Onward and upward

In a statement to THE CITY, a Greenland spokesperson said the group is committed to meeting the affordable housing deadline. The statement noted the company has “over 1 million square feet of construction underway that when finished will deliver more than 300 affordable units and a brand new public middle school, all built with union labor.”

“We understand historic concerns about progress but that is no reason to ignore the reality happening on the site and the undeniable momentum we have today,” the spokesperson added.

Initial work is now underway on the 312-apartment Brodsky tower at 664 Pacific St., which includes the middle school and a 30 percent set-aside of affordable apartments.

On the drawing boards are TF Cornerstone’s plans for two Dean Street parcels — including, neighbors recently learned to the dismay of some, a sprawling, upscale private gym in the basement.

Greenland recently demolished a large storage warehouse that had been located inside the railyard trench — clearing the way for the platform that will enable full construction.

Still, Veconi expressed skepticism about whether the foundation over the railyard will be finished in time for the remaining affordable apartments to be finished on schedule.

“No serious observer of the project believes they can get the railyard done and these buildings completed,” he said.

This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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  1. PHeights79

    Where was it released that the gym will be “upscale”? What does “private” mean? “Residents-only” or are you referring to the concept that anyone can join so long as they pay the membership fees? If the latter, are there any “non-private”, indoor gyms in the area?