Tag Archives: Affordable Housing

If it’s capitalism, why not teach financial literacy?

Even though I am the president of this pr firm, I will admit that, before opening this business, I had little practical knowledge about the business side of running a business.

And, although I know how to balance a checkbook and have enough money in accounts to keep things “in the black,” no elementary or high school course ever taught me “financial literacy.”

Oh sure, there were courses on things like making a budget or shopping for the best food bargains, but no one actually explained the nuts and bolts of capitalism and how it works.

And I know I am hardly alone.

As a result, the ins and outs of capitalism are left to the “experts” whose job, in part, is to “tell” us what to do. No one ever explained, for example, that this “credit rating” thing could actually ruin a business or someone’s chances of getting a loan, or a mortgage, or an apartment. People marry and have families, and no one explains that the way you deal with your finances can seriously affect your ability to have the home and the life you want.

We have to deal with capitalism every day, but, for most people, it’s a high concept that’s really fuzzy and seems unrelated to what we do.

Of course, there are some courses in college that can be taken, and sometimes, local government provides courses too.

I’m bringing this up now because we worked with the BrooklynSpeaks community groups a few years ago on the new deal that will bring the promised Atlantic Yards affordable housing online ten years earlier. People will be able to apply for the housing through a lottery system. (More on that here.)

What many people don’t know is that simply showing that you need the housing and can prove it – through providing tax returns, etc. – is not enough. You have to be able to show that your household is financially capable of paying the rent in a timely manner every month. And that requires that your household’s finances are in tip top shape. Of course, ironically, a large percentage of the people who really need this kind of housing won’t qualify because they are unaware of this requirement and, since they are often scrambling just to make ends meet, they simply haven’t focused on their own financial fitness as calculated by the “outside” world.

Some non-profits, like Brown Community Development Corporation, are trying to address this problem by holding sessions about the lottery, and these sessions include advice on getting finances in shape.

But it shouldn’t have to come to this. Why don’t we include financial literacy from elementary school through high school? Perhaps it’s because if people really understood capitalism, those in power would have to face an educated voter base who’d be less likely to stand for some of the financial shenanigans we’ve seen.

It still comes down to this: If we have to live in this world of capitalism, we need to understand it. That goes for everyone.

Client News: ERFA’s New Zoning Plan to Stop Supertowers

East River Fifties Alliance Files New Zoning Plan, Promotes Affordable Housing; Manhattan Borough President Brewer, City Council Members Kallos and Garodnick, and State Senator Krueger Co-Sign

After months of intense preparation, our clients, the East River Fifties Alliance (ERFA), just filed a new zoning plan for Manhattan’s Far East 50s (the area between 52nd Street and 59th Street, east of 1st Avenue) with the Department of City Planning. The new zoning plan would restrict supertowers and out-of-scale development in that neighborhood, while providing for affordable housing. Not only that, but they had an elite list of co-filers: Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, City Council Members Ben Kallos and Dan Garodnick, and State Senator Liz Krueger.

This proposal, created via a partnership between the community (through ERFA) and city planners, is one of the most sweeping community residential re-zoning plans in City history, and the first plan of its kind to include affordable housing as a component.

Currently, the Far East Fifties is vulnerable to gigantic megatower development because its zoning is left over from the 1960s and sets no specific height limits on apartment buildings. It’s the last residential-only segment of the city that remains without such protections. (The same zoning is generally limited to busy commercial or mixed use avenues in Manhattan.)  In fact, one developer has already proposed a wildly oversized 1,000 foot megatower on East 58th Street between First Avenue and Sutton Place that would dwarf the entire neighborhood. ERFA is working to prevent not only that project but all others like it.

Affordable Housing

As Mayor de Blasio has voiced repeatedly, NYC needs affordable housing badly. ERFA not only agrees, but the neighborhood is welcoming such opportunities with open arms. This new zone would urge developers to devote at least 25% of new units to affordable housing in the neighborhood.

As it stands, the East River Fifties’ R10 zone and equivalent zones throughout the city only create about 4-5% affordable units with each new development. If fully implemented, the ERFA plan would nearly quadruple the amount of affordable housing in new developments in our neighborhood. The details of how that goal could be best met – whether by making the affordable housing component mandatory, voluntary, or by some other formulation – will be determined in ERFA’s negotiations with City Planning. it will enter a review process that moves through the various levels of New York City’s government for approval. You can learn more about ERFA and its new zoning plan at www.erfa.nyc

The media is already excited and we’ve received a slew of stories. Here are a few: City Land (New York Law School), Crain’s New York Business, Curbed, DNA Info, Manhattan Express, New York Daily News, Our Town Press, Realty Today, and The Real Deal.

If It’s Capitalism, Why Not Teach Financial Literacy?

Photo from Google Image Search, courtesy of World Financial Group

Even though I am the president of this pr firm, I will admit that, before opening LCG Communications, I had little practical knowledge about the actual business side of running a business.

And, although I know how to balance a checkbook and have enough money in accounts to keep things “in the black,” no elementary, middle or high school class ever taught me “financial literacy.”

Oh sure, there were courses on things like making a budget or shopping for the best food bargains, but no one actually explained the nuts and bolts of capitalism and how it works.

And I know I am hardly alone.

As a result, the ins and outs of capitalism are left to the “experts,” whose job, in part, is to “tell” us what to do. No one ever explained, for example, that this “credit rating” thing could actually ruin a business or someone’s chances of getting a loan, or a mortgage, or an apartment. People marry and have families, and no one explains that the way you deal with your finances can seriously affect your ability to have the home and the life you want.

We have to deal with capitalism every day, but, for most people, it’s a high concept that’s really fuzzy and seems unrelated to what we do.

Of course, there are some courses in college that can be taken, and sometimes, local government provides courses too.

I’m bringing this up now because, just recently, we worked with the BrooklynSpeaks community groups on the new deal that will bring the promised Atlantic Yards affordable housing online ten years earlier. People will be able to apply for the housing through a lottery system. (The project has now been re-dubbed “Pacific Park.”)

What many people don’t know is that simply showing that you need the housing and can prove it – through providing tax returns, etc. – is not enough. You have to be able to show that your household is financially capable of paying the rent in a timely manner every month. And that requires that your household’s finances are in tip top shape. Of course, ironically, a large percentage of the people who really need this kind of housing won’t qualify because they are unaware of this requirement and, since they are often scrambling just to make ends meet, they simply haven’t focused on their own financial fitness as calculated by the “outside” world.

Some non-profits, like Brown Community Development Corporation, are trying to address this problem by holding free sessions about the lottery, and these sessions include advice on getting finances in shape.

But it shouldn’t have to come to this. Why don’t we include financial literacy education from elementary school through high school? Perhaps it’s because if people really understood capitalism, those in power would have to face an educated voter base who’d be less likely to stand for some of the financial shenanigans we’ve seen.

It still comes down to this: If we have to live in this world of capitalism, we need to understand it. That goes for everyone.

Affordable Housing at Atlantic Yards in the News!

The issue of affordable housing has been popping up everywhere in the news lately. We couldn’t be more delighted to announce that our clients, members of BrooklynSpeaks, were just featured in two great TV interviews about the recent deal struck at Atlantic Yards that guarantees completion of all affordable units by 2025.

Michelle de la Uz, Executive Director of Fifth Avenue Committee (FAC), joined Marjona Jones, who has worked on behalf of Brown Community Development Corporation (BCDC), on ABC7’s “Here and Now” show to talk about the new agreement, how it affects the community, and what it will mean for future developments.

Michelle de la Uz, Marjona Jones and host Sandra Bookman on ABC7’s “Here and Now.”

 

Nick Powell, City Hall Bureau Chief for City & State, sat down with Michelle de la Uz for an in depth discussion about the ramifications of delaying promised delivery of affordable housing, the implications of the project’s name change from Atlantic Yards to Pacific Park, and the details involved in qualifying for an affordable housing lottery.

Latest Client News July 24, 2014: Great News on Affordable Housing

Here’s our latest news of victory: culminating an 11 year struggle, and following weeks of intense negotiations, our clients — BrooklynSpeaks sponsor organizations and local residents recently announced they have reached a landmark settlement about affordable housing with Forest City Ratner Corporation (FCRC), the developer of the contentious Atlantic Yards Project in Brooklyn, and the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), with the support of the City of New York. The agreement at Atlantic Yards has been a long time coming, and we’re very pleased to have helped work towards this resolution. Now that a consensus has finally been reached, it provides a great starting point for discussion of affordable housing within New York City.

Mayor de Blasio has been very clear about his emphasis on affordable housing during his term, and this new accord, which promises timely delivery of affordable housing and real developer accountability, potentially presents a good template for such projects moving forward.

The new agreement at Atlantic Yards fueled a storm of press coverage, including a piece in the New York Times!

Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

A brief summary of the settlement: Under the terms of the agreement, construction on the first of the affordable units will begin by the end of the year, and a full total of 2,250 affordable apartments must be completed by May 2025 – ten years earlier than previously agreed.

It also establishes an Atlantic Yards Tenant Protection Fund and penalties for failure to meet affordable housing milestones. The newly-created Fund, which is expected to be administered by the Brooklyn Community Foundation, will provide grants to local nonprofit organizations offering eviction prevention and anti-displacement services to low and moderate income residents of Brooklyn community districts 2, 3, 6 and 8. (Read more about the Tenant Protection Fund here.) Many lower and working class families – especially African Americans – are getting priced out of their neighborhoods due to escalating rents and costs of living exacerbated, ironically, by the construction of Atlantic Yards’ Barclay Center. Gentrification around Atlantic Yards is rapidly changing the face of nearby communities; African Americans comprised 52% of the population of the combined area of the districts surrounding Atlantic Yards (Community Boards 2, 3, 6 and 8) in 2000, but represented only 40% in 2010. A study of current demographic trends has found that African Americans will represent only 15% of the population by 2035, the outside date by which the housing was originally required to be finished.

Importantly, the settlement will also result in the creation of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation, a subsidiary of the ESDC charged with overseeing compliance with all project commitments; it will enforce real penalties for failure to meet construction deadlines.

To view the full agreement with ESDC, click here. For a complete explanation of the settlement and copies of all its components, click here.

To read more of the press coverage about this deal, please click on the following links:

Capital New York – here, here, and here
Crain’s – here and here
Curbed
DNAinfo
Gothamist
Law 360
Newsday

*NY1
*NY Daily News

Observer
The Real Deal
WCBS
*WNYC
WSJ

*Denotes an article or segment that we especially liked.

 

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When Will They Learn? How Big Development Projects Get Green Lighted Even Over Community Opposition

I was meeting with a client the other day, and we were bemoaning – yet again – another mega development project that did not deliver on promises made to the community.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s same stuff, different day and my client heartily agrees.  The both of us just sighed.

It is confounding to me that the same “drill” occurs, over and over again, and, yet, people don’t seem to get what’s happening.  Or, even worse, they do, but they just don’t care or are part of the problem.  This applies specifically to elected officials who continue to vote for these giant projects without changing the format – and for those of you unfamiliar with the format, here it is:

Developer wants to build a big project of some sort which will inevitably disrupt a neighborhood, take away green space, use public assets and/or financing, force lower income residents out, drive up rents, etc. – you can pick one or all of these.  Developer also claims great benefits for the community – it will stimulate the economy! Create hundreds or thousands of jobs! Bring needed services/space to the community! Etc!

They quite purposely make the project larger than they know will be approved and are very careful to include a list of so called “community benefits.”

Project goes to the local elected officials which, here in NYC, is the City Council.  The project goes to a specific committee where there is debate and “public comment,” before a vote. Some council members ask good questions.  Developers come with charts, power point presentations, people in suits.  There are the promises to the community, including jobs and a shot in the arm to the local economy, two promises that developers know elected officials cannot seem to oppose. There is sometimes even heated debate, especially during the public comment part.  Some Councilmember or other makes a big deal of telling the developer to scale back the project.  Project is scaled back (slightly), Council committee votes its approval and it’s on to a vote with the whole Council where the project is declared a win-win for everybody!

The same general “process” is used when the project involves state government too.

Perhaps I have oversimplified the situation, but that’s more or less it, unfortunately.

This is not to say, however, that there should never be any development projects or that they are all bad.  Since New York City real estate continues to become more and more valuable, many of these projects are really nothing more than a land grab in disguise and/or a way to get valuable public funding dollars for private projects.

Two NYC projects come to mind – one already mostly built, and the other on the drawing board.  The Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn is almost complete except for – you guessed it – the affordable housing part that was promised to the community as part of the deal.  Some local officials did try to get the housing built along with the main project, but the move was turned down.

In Greenwich Village, NYU concocted an enormous, multi-billion dollar expansion plan that it said it needed for academic purposes.  Turns out even NYU’s faculty doesn’t buy this reason and has called NYU administration out on it.  There was a lawsuit filed by many groups and individuals in the Village, and the Court has ruled that three strips of important parkland that NYU wanted to destroy for its plan cannot be used because they are “real” parks. (NYU tried to argue that, since they weren’t “officially” part of the Parks Dept, that they aren’t really parks, even though some of those green spaces have been literally used for decades as parks.)  We’re hoping for a better outcome on this development plan, and the judge’s decision has been very encouraging.

No matter what you think of the two instances I cited, I think everyone should be able to agree that the process that leads to approval of these projects is woefully inadequate and needs to change.

Now to find some brave elected officials who are up to the task.