Streams

The Battle Over the Domino Sugar Development

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn. (Mario Tama/Getty)

WNYC reporter Janet Babin breaks down the latest housing issues in the city, including today's news that the de Blasio administration is asking for more affordable housing units for the proposed development at the old Domino Sugar refinery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She says Mayor de Blasio's ambitious goal to create or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing and his request to the Domino developers is sending a signal to developers that "we are going to name our price, and it's going to be enormous." 

Plus: information on a lawsuit that alleges property taxes in New York City are discriminatory. 

Guests:

Janet Babin

Comments [28]

Norman Oder from Brooklyn

Sorry--I should withdraw and revise my comment.

While Janet Babin did say "Just look at the Atlantic Yards project--the two-bedrooms there are going to run above $2700. And that's the affordable," she was responding to BL's specific question about whether families of four earning over $100K could get subsidized housing.

That remains a bit imprecise (though I recognize that time was limited). There will be families of four at 140% of Area Median Income ($116,200) and 160% ($132,800) paying, as of 2012 figures (which have already gone up), $2180 and $2740 a month for 2BR units.

Mar. 06 2014 01:57 PM
Brian Paul from Brooklyn

Lot's of corrections should be made to this report, including the confusion about Bloomberg's inclusionary zoning, which actually produced very few affordable units, as noted in a comment below.

But the core problem here is the need for BINDING and more COMPREHENSIVE agreements for affordable housing and community benefits. The 2010 project was entirely predicated on a promise of 660 units of affordable housing affordable to a spectrum of incomes including very low 30% AMI, and lots of two and three bedroom units. Sadly that promise was not BINDING and was instead memorialized as a memo of understanding. But the public and the City government clearly thought that’s what was achieved in exchange for the zoning change. The idea that De Blasio is demanding "an enormous price" when he's essentially asking for what the 2010 Bloomberg and City Council agreed to with the prior developer, is laughable.

Mr. Walentas wants to weaken the affordable housing program in comparison to the 2010 plan and uses the fact that that plan was not BINDING as blackmail to win permission for his taller towers and extra density. The community groups that pushed for the 2010 plan because of its affordable housing are all demanding that Two Trees improve its affordable housing proposals and also contribute to alleviating the impact that the development will have on the community by contributing to anti-displacement organizing work and an open space fund among other community benefits. But Two Trees’ PR has skillfully framed what’s happening now as “De Blasio” inappropriately injecting himself into the debate, when it's really the City Planning Commission and De Blasio seeking to serve the community’s wishes and win a better plan for the public. If you want to find out what’s really happening with this development visit http://www.thedominoeffectmovie.com/blog

Mar. 01 2014 01:48 PM
Norman Oder from Brooklyn

No, the 2BR Atlantic Yards affordable units wouldn't *all* rent for over $2700. Most would (and that's skewed), but please get it right.

See http://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2013/11/average-affordable-2-br-in-first.html

Feb. 28 2014 07:05 PM
Keith from NYC

There seems to be many misleading facts described in this story. I am disappointed that they were not reported more carefully.
First, the Bloomberg Administrations goal of 165,000 affordable units was to build or preserve. To say inclusionary housing under Bloomberg was a success because he reached this number is EXTREMELY misleading, as the vast majority of these units were "preserved" and not created - and had nothing to do with Inclusionary Housing. See numbers as reported in Crains. http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20140218/BLOGS01/140219939/failure-of-inclusionary-zoning#

Second to say that Inclusionary Housing will make up a large portion of new development in the city is incorrect. Although these mega-projects get much attention, the majority of what is built in NYC is "as of right" development and do not fall into the voluntary (or perhaps soon to be mandatory) Inclusionary Housing Program. Other than projects seeking zoning changes - such as Domino - there are zoned Inclusionary Housing Designated Areas, but these are a fraction of the city. For the program to really have an impact it needs to made mandatory and the designated areas should be expanded.

For too long, the city has given far to many incentives to build - mostly market rate and luxury - housing. Once the previous administration up-zoned much of the city - essentially creating increased profit for developers - they should have demanded concessions for improved infrastructure, public space and affordable housing, not further incentivized them.

Feb. 28 2014 04:00 PM
jm

Seth: I agree that NYC is founded on certain sacrifices, but consider that the difference between sharing a living space with family or significant others is completely different than sharing with strangers. Many people are constantly surrounded by strangers at home, work, and public transportation, which can cause unnecessary strain over the long term. The focus on families only ensures that so much of the new housing ignores single people. There have always been a limited number of affordable studios and one bedrooms for singles, but the new developments are subtracting the overall number of affordable units for us. As I stated previously, I don't need a lot of space. In fact, I'm going to be leaving a fairly large, one bedroom, rent-stabilized apartment in the near future because I'd rather not endure what's happening in my neighborhood.

Bloomberg created an environment that gave certain types of people the ease to spend a few years here without a long term commitment. I know more than one person who wouldn't have considered living in NYC when I moved here; before the last 10 years of consumer internet neighborhood and housing resources, you had to have a desire to survive, and accepted the hardships along with the privileges.

Feb. 28 2014 11:53 AM
Denise Jones Adler from Manhattan

As a former business lessee who rented from Two Trees for around 8 years from 99 - 2008, I am surprised to hear Your guests positive response to and her send up of Two Trees and what a good developer they are. Competition must be pretty thin! I think you should talk to the many businesses that they threw out of their buildings under bogus eviction suits as well as to the people who paid for David Walentas's Electricity in the Clock tower. http://gothamist.com/2005/02/11/dumbo_developer_steals_electricity.php
Our experience was with a ruthless company who manipulated their tenants. Their buildings were plagued with all sorts of problems and I question their dedication to mixed usage. Dumbo had a wonderful Art scene before the Walentas clan were able to capitalize on the artist's and galleries world hard work and success in bringing people back to the area. Most of those pioneers are gone now, thrown out by Two Trees Corp. New Higher paying renters have now taken their place. I would be very surprised if that tiger could change it's stripes and I feel sorry for what's going to happen to Williamsburg! Hope that someone is keeping an eye on them!?

Feb. 28 2014 11:52 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

@Fuva, Who is behind this lawsuit? Most of those with 11+ unit buildings are rent-stabilized. The only people that would benefit from a change of the tax law are, mostly white Landlords.

Feb. 28 2014 11:28 AM
Mike

The Property Tax code on single family homes in NYC needs to overhauled and brought into the 21st century. Mayor deBlasio himself pays $2600 in property taxes per year on a home that is valued at $1.18M. There would certainly be more tax revenue with which to build low-income housing if the tax rate were fairly adjusted.

Feb. 28 2014 11:26 AM
jm

Elsie: if I had an opportunity to rent a moderately-priced micro apartment several stops out on any Brooklyn-Queens, I'd take it in a heartbeat. I agree about the disproportionate focus on not only family but "luxury/VIP" amenities. It's as if the only choices now are extremes between both ends.

The interesting thing is, many of these so-called "luxury" apartments are actually very cheap in their construction. I've spent time in a few friends' new apartments over this chilly winter, and insulation is almost nonexistent. Shoddy window construction allows the wind to flow through, and effective steam heat is shunned for dry, "vent on the ceiling where the heat already rises" central air. Both buyers and renters have to pay for their own heat, so unless you specifically seek heating units on the floor and westherproof, you're looking at astronomical heating bills.

Feb. 28 2014 11:23 AM
Heather from 11222

Oh well Brian. The Loft Law already exists to add rent stabilized housing to NYC, and the application deadline is this March 11, 2014. The city hasn't done enough to inform the public about this deadline. Too bad there wasn't time to mention this today. People can get more info at www.nyclofttenants.org

Feb. 28 2014 11:23 AM
rudeboynyc from Williamsburg

How do you define market rate?
How do you define affordable housing?

South Williamsburg is still mostly a hasidic neighborhood, what's the "market rate" there?

Housing might be affordable in the beginning, but it gets quickly eroded by the allowed 2-4% rent increases. If a landlord's maintenance cost,which is maybe at 10% of his rental income, increases by 2-4% he is allowed to increase the whole rent, making an ADDITIONAL WINDFALL PROFIT of 2-4% on 90% rental income.

The city should only allow rent increases on the actual increased maintenance cost! Even if they throw in an additional 10-50% return on investment, renters would still be far better of, and the units would actually stay affordable much longer!

We need more math majors on Rent/Loft boards!

Feb. 28 2014 11:21 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Jessie Lydia Henshaw -- You seem to equate counteracting inequity with inequity. But you're right about the need for INFORMED solutions.

Feb. 28 2014 11:20 AM
Dorothy from Manhattan

Several years ago a neighbor got into a low-income unit in a new building. She had SS and $10K IRA. She said her apt. was smaller than other studios and she was terrified (no exaggeration) about getting into trouble b/c of noise, her dog, etc.

She said she got the apt. b/c her credit rating was high and low income people usually have bad/low credit ratings. Kind of a Catch 22 for low income people.

Feb. 28 2014 11:19 AM
rudeboynyc from Williamsburg

How do you define market rate?
How do you define affordable housing?

South Williamsburg is still mostly a hasidic neighborhood, what's the "market rate" there?

Housing might be affordable in the beginning, but it gets quickly eroded by the allowed 2-4% rent increases. If a landlord's maintenance cost,which is maybe at 10% of his rental income, increases by 2-4% he is alloewed to increase the whole rent, making an additional windfall profit of 2-4% on 90%.

The city should only allow rent increases on the actual increased maintenance cost! Even if they throw in an additional 10-50% renturn on investment, renters would still be far better of, and the units would actually stay affordable much longer!

We need more math majors on Rent/Loft boards!

Feb. 28 2014 11:18 AM
rudeboynyc from Williamsburg

How do you define market rate?
How do you define affordable housing?

South Williamsburg is still mostly a hasidic neighborhood, what's the "market rate" there?

Housing might be affordable in the beginning, but it gets quickly eroded by the allowed 2-4% rent increases. If a landlord's maintenance cost,which is maybe at 10% of his rental income, increases by 2-4% he is alloewed to increase the whole rent, making an additional windfall profit of 2-4% on 90%.

The city should only allow rent increases on the actual increased maintenance cost! Even if they throw in an additional 10-50% renturn on investment, renters would still be far better of, and the units would actually stay affordable much longer!

We need more math majors on Rent/Loft boards!

Feb. 28 2014 11:18 AM
Seth

There should be no such thing as single person affordable housing. Get a roommate like the rest of us. It's the New York way. And the source of many tv shows and movies. If you're a single person and want to live alone, pay for it.

Feb. 28 2014 11:18 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Don't get your point, Sheldon.

Feb. 28 2014 11:18 AM
jm

So many great points here already, especially the tendency to leave single person affordable housing out of the equation and the continuing question pertaining to flood zoning of new waterfront dwellings.

I don't understand why the additional affordable housing request is unreasonable. The new number of dwellings proposed in both Williamsburg and Greenpoint is going to be a major strain on the public transportation infrastructure. Who's supposed to pay for that?

Feb. 28 2014 11:15 AM
Jay from New York

There is a cost to higher buildings in new development -- the higher you go, there is a bigger shadow, more density without infrastructure improvements and less light and air. What is free to the mayor COSTS existing residents. Change comes at a price and in this equation, existing residents pay the price. We need regional transportation solutions with faster rail to outer satellite cities. Rational planning embraces a bigger picture.

Feb. 28 2014 11:15 AM
Sara from Nyc

Did they negotiate 30% of the units for affordable housing, or 30% of the leaseable space? It should be the latter, otherwise the developer could only a lot studios to the lower income tenants. More appropriately, 30% of all 3 bedrooms; 30% of all 2 bedrooms, etc. should be allocated to affordable housing. The comment tht the developer "has already thrown in a school" is flippant and disingenuous .

Feb. 28 2014 11:13 AM
Jessie Lydia Henshaw from Way Uptown

- You can’t solve an inequity crisis by building more inequity. -
What you need to do is study what natural circle of effects (system) keeps inflating the inequities. Then decide what is best.

Feb. 28 2014 11:11 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Ms. Babin said the Bloomberg administration achieved most of its goals for building affordable housing, but that raises the question of whether the goals it set were adequate. Does she think they were?

Feb. 28 2014 11:10 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Fuva - it's still a reach, you can say the same thing about food and cab fare.

Feb. 28 2014 11:09 AM
Amelia from Crown Heights

We need more MIDDLE CLASS housing. If all the new developments are a mix of luxury and affordable, where are people making $60-150k supposed to live?
How about a 30-30-40 split; 30% affordable, 30% middle income, and 40% market rate?

Feb. 28 2014 11:07 AM
Elsie from Brooklyn

Considering that over 40% of households in NYC are single dwelled, I think that there needs to be as much attention paid to single-person households. Politicians in NY are obsessed with families, but a large chunk of the people who live here aren't in a family. This needs to be addressed because all indicators point towards the number of single-person households increasing not decreasing, still, this demographic is largely ignored by politicians who like to take photos with babies. This tactic won't be of much use in 10 years since it's unlikely that the young generation, saddled with debt and unable to find a decent job, will be having many kids.

Feb. 28 2014 11:05 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Yes, blacks and latinos are disproportionately poor and therefore disproportionately intergenerational renters.
And so, yes, this lawsuit is valid.
However, what is even more required, is mass UNDERSTANDING of the CAUSE of this socioeconimic divide. The very success of such lawsuits depends on it.

Feb. 28 2014 11:05 AM
rudeboynyc from Williamsburg

All the development on the Williamsburg waterfront is in flood zone A
Who allowed/bribed/coerced to build there anything?
All those outrageous towers should have built staggered further inland and the waterfront should have turned into a park/floodland!
Instead of fencing in Brooklyn...

Feb. 28 2014 11:04 AM

What defines "affordable?" And would these be to rent, or buy?

Feb. 28 2014 10:59 AM

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