Plans to develop a vacant, century-old armory in Crown Heights into a complex with market rate condos, affordable apartments, and an athletic center have been met with strong opposition in recent months. Neighbors, local unions and elected officials have decried City Hall's decision to work with a for-profit developer on the site, arguing that city land should be prioritized for deeply affordable housing projects.
In an apparent effort to warm skeptics to the project, BFC partners announced today that it will be partnering with a Crown Heights-based nonprofit development corporation. The nonprofit will not work with BFC to drive down rents on the armory site. Instead, the group will oversee a trust fund that will be used to develop affordable housing on other sites in the neighborhood.
"We plan to use the fund exclusively for low income housing," Local Development Corporation of Crown Heights (LDCCH) head Caple Spence told Gothamist.
"We said, 'This is one way we could assure... that the community as a whole will receive something out of the development of the armory,'" he added.
The trust fund would launch with a $500,000 investment from BFC, according to Spence, and would receive additional funding regularly—perhaps out of annual apartment rents. Spence said that his organization has yet to acquire sites for trust fund-financed projects. LDCCH also has yet to set benchmarks with BFC for affordable housing construction.
As for the rents, the fund would aim to produce apartments at rents affordable to people who make 30 percent of the Area Median Income, or $24,480 for a family of three, Spence said. (Existing LDCCH-managed properties in Crown Heights are primarily for senior citizens, on Kingston Avenue and on the Kings County Hospital Center campus.)
While the armory proposal calls for 50 percent affordable housing, the project will tentatively include just 18 units, out of a total 330, for renters who make 37 percent of the Area Median Income, or $31,068 for a family of three. An additional 49 apartments will be set at 50 percent of the AMI, or $38,835.
But the AMI is calculated using rents from across the city, as well as those in wealthier Westchester and Putnam counties. According to an NYU Furman Center report, the 2014 Crown Heights median income was between $41,867 and $44,961 for a household of three. Neighbors worry that a proposed 99 additional apartments at 110 percent of the AMI, or $85,437 for a family of three, will put more pressure on local rent-stabilized tenants who are already facing harassment from profit-seeking landlords.
Before developer BFC Partners is confirmed for the project, and affordability levels are set in stone, the proposal has to go through a lengthy public review process—a process that was delayed last month after state and federal politicians filed a Freedom of Information Law request for the project's financials, timeline and economic impact.
While advocates would like to see the city's Request for Proposal scrapped in favor of a project that is completely affordable for Crown Heights renters, local Councilmember Laurie Cumbo, who has a big hand in project negotiations, said that she would prefer to see the current proposal through.
"Let's just continue to negotiate, see what the final outcome is, and if it's satisfactory," Cumbo told Gothamist in a recent phone interview. "If it's going to have a negative impact, then we vote it down and move forward." (Cumbo's office did not immediately comment on the new trust fund.)
Spence predicted that his organization's track record—650 units of senior and affordable housing borough-wide—will eventually "sway some of" the skeptics.
"[BFC's] remedy of adding a nonprofit partner this late in the process is like putting a Band-Aid on a tumor," 66-year-old Vaughn Armour, a member of New York Communities for Change and lead organizer for the anti-BFC movement, told Crain's. "The only way to save the Armory is to kill the project and start over."