BFC Partners, the company behind a controversial plan to develop the Bedford-Union Armory in Crown Heights, faced questions from the City Planning Commission on Tuesday, the latest step in the city's lengthy land use review process.
"I'm sure [you've] heard quite a bit of comment about the community's desire for this project to be 100 percent affordable... to better meet the needs that exist in Crown Heights," Commissioner Michelle de la Uz asked representatives from BFC Partners and two city agencies, HPD and the Economic Development Corporation. "So I'm just wondering what level of analysis has been done around that request and what level of public subsidy would be required in order to make that [possible]?"
"I don't have a specific number to answer your question," said HPD rep Jordan Press, adding that analysis is underway.
According to BFC representative John Valladares, BFC plans to cross-subsidize the project with a market-rate component. He added that BFC has requested State subsidies and a "marginal amount" of City subsidies, but did not provide exact amounts.
While the armory proposal as-written calls for 50 percent affordable units, just 18 out of a total 330 are currently set aside for renters who make 37 percent of the Area Median Income, or $31,068 a year for a family of three. An additional 49 apartments will be set at 50 percent of the AMI, or $38,835, and 99 at 110 percent of the AMI, or $85,437.
New York Communities for Change, the Crown Heights Tenants Union, and the local Democratic Socialists of America branch have called on the city to start over from scratch, possibly with a community land trust: a nonprofit that acquires and manages land and empowers tenants to jointly set the terms of its use.
Because the project is slated for public land, they argue, it could be developed at a lower cost than a parcel on the open market.
Community members, construction unions and grassroots groups have repeatedly denounced the project, arguing that proposed luxury and market rate units will accelerate gentrification in Crown Heights. But Mayor Bill de Blasio has pushed back, arguing that the below-market rate units and proposed recreational center are in line with his affordable housing goals.
Last week, de Blasio administration sources confirmed their intention to throw more money behind the project, apparently to win over local Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who recently refused to support any plan from BFC that includes 60 luxury condominiums.
The Planning Commission also questioned BFC on its commitment to hire 30 percent of construction workers locally, and its promise to open the rec center before the luxury condos. Commissioner de la Uz said that a promised advisory board made up of local residents would be "critical to the success of the project."
New York Communities for Change said that while the CPC touched on their key affordability concerns, the city officials did not push hard enough.
"The City Planning Commission, which works for the Mayor, questioned BFC Partners for over an hour and barely discussed the lack of affordable housing or the homelessness crisis in Crown Heights," charged NYCC member and Crown Heights resident Vaughn Armor. "That is unacceptable. They barely questioned BFC or HPD about the lack of housing subsidy in the project, when it is clear that the community is crying out for 100 percent affordable housing on this public land."
Assembly member Diana Richardson opened the lengthy opposition testimony to loud applause from several local residents in attendance. Although the proposed redevelopment lies just beyond the boundaries of her constituency, she lives one block away from the Armory.
"We are in dire need of a community center," Richardson said. "There is no positive place for our community to go." However, "Our people are losing their homes."
"The word affordable is being used very loosely here," she added. "And we all know it."
A final CPC vote has yet to be scheduled. Following the CPC's recommendations, the proposal will go to the City Council for a final vote.
With Emma Whitford.