Elected Officials Op-Ed: Public Owned Bedford Armory Should Be 100% Affordable

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We agree with the recent Crain’s New York Editorial: “The Armory skirmish shows it’s time to think bigger in Crown Heights.”

We enthusiastically reiterate Crain’s statement that we need “a broader vision to grow Crown Heights in a way that preserves its economic and ethnic diversity.”

We are duty bound as the locally elected officials of the Crown Heights community in which the Bedford-Union Armory resides, to work to achieve this laudable goal since the project is on public, city-owned land. Ultimately, we are all the landlords.

However, before addressing this goal of growth and the preservation of economic and ethnic diversity, we must have good faith and transparency. For us, there remain a number of unanswered questions regarding the financials of the proposed project, the benefits and the burdens. We must be clear about the facts.

According to Crain’s, “the market-rate rentals and condominiums will subsidize the rec center and leave enough profit to justify the risk to the city’s chosen builder, BFC Partners.” All of the locally elected officials have asked this question repeatedly: Exactly just how much profit are we talking about here? And at what cost to the community? What exactly are the details of these finances? BFC has not revealed that to any of us, nor has the City, despite repeated requests. It would be interesting to know whether BFC has released this information to a news organization and not to us. For the sake of governmental, journalistic, and business transparency, we request that BFC share that information with us as well. How can anyone validate a project of this magnitude without seeing the financials?

Another very important concern that was omitted from the Crain’s article: What happened regarding Slate Property Group, formerly a partner in the project? Will there be a new partner selected? If so, what is the process for such a selection? How can there be an expectation of approval of a project when we have no idea of who is party to the negotiation and their intentions?

Notwithstanding the lack of clarification and transparency of the financing of the project, we reject the notion that the rec center – really a community center –  as an amenity, should be used as a Trojan horse to build luxury housing. The community center should include a variety of services, such as tech classes. It should pay for itself. We should not have to trade off affordable housing to build the community center. As it stands, the proposal presents only 66 out of 330 units being available to those earning below area media income – that 20% of the units allocated to near-affordability is nowhere near reasonable.

As elected officials, we are united in the need for community services and amenities which provide tremendous benefits to Crown Heights and beyond. We may not all have a formal role in land use disposition, but we all have taken an oath to protect and serve the community that we represent. We raised our voices together regarding the urgency of addressing homelessness, the overweighting of studio apartments, and other concerns in our joint October 6, 2016 letter.

The City’s administration is developing the site through the Economic Development Corporation, whose stated vision is to create economic growth “fuelled by the City’s diverse people and businesses.” Crain’s and the EDC seem to agree on the need to maintain “diversity.” Ironically enough, on the same day that Crain’s published their article, DNAinfo reported on a Rent Café analysis that found Crown Heights is one of the neighborhoods that saw a large increase in wealthy renters. And last week, ProPublica issued a study of eviction data that showed that there are more evictions in zip code 11225 (the zip code of theBedford-Union Armory site) than nearly every other zip code in the City.

We are clear that Crown Heights does not need more luxury development. The number of large luxury developments going up in the area is staggering. That’s why, after extensive conversations with the community, a logical consensus emerged with a rare level of support: The community and elected officials are committed to creating a community center along with 100% affordable housing development.

Let’s remember who owns this land: The City of New York. If BFC can’t come up with a plan that fits the needs of the landlord, our community, then maybe they are not the right developer for the project. We urge the EDC to live up to their words. Not every building being developed in Crown Heights needs to be or should be a luxury tower.

We support “a broader, more inclusive vision of growth in Crown Heights that preserves its economic and ethnic diversity”. Unfortunately, this current development plan does not do that. We can and must do better.