November 14, 2014
By Marc Bussanich

New York, NY—The building trades and its president Gary LaBarbera protested last month near City Hall to say that the City Council should red-light the Astoria Cove project unless the developer built it with union labor. On Wednesday afternoon the Land Use Committee chaired by Councilman David Greenfield green-lighted the project with modifications.

While all the committee’s members voted yea with the exception of Councilwoman Inez Barron abstaining, some councilmembers expressed concerns that the project doesn’t include enough affordable housing.

As the developer, Alma Realty, and the City Council wrangled over the percentage of affordable units, the Land Use Committee voted to approve the project on Wednesday that’ll include 27 percent affordable out of approximately 1,700 units, or 468 units.

Councilman Jumaane Williams said he wished there were more affordable units being built.

“I reject the notion that somehow this [project] is a prototype of the direction the Mayor’s housing plan is going. I think we have to view these projects individually. I’m going to vote yea on the project, but I believe we could have gone deeper on some of the affordability because we have to,” said Williams.

Councilwoman Barron abstained, explaining her position before her vote.

“I have to echo my concerns. As I understand the area medium income [AMI] for [Councilman Costa Constantinides] district is about $74,000. When we use the term ‘affordable’ we have to ask ‘Affordable to whom?’ The fact that only 5 percent [of the units] is designed for people at 60 percent of the AMI and 15 percent for people at 80 percent of the AMI, we’re now looking at 73 percent of the people who are not within that band, who are not eligible to apply because they don’t meet those requirements,” said Councilwoman Barron.

Just after the Councilmembers cast their vote, the Land Use Committee chairman, Councilman David Greenfield, took exception with those councilmembers who voiced their concerns about the lack of more affordable housing with the project.

“I just want to clarify an important point, which is that the level of affordability is actually very significant. The original proposal that the administration negotiated would have had a requirement of 10 percent affordability, which is half of the affordability be it 80 percent and the rest could have been higher,” said Greenfield. “There is honestly no single standard for building affordable housing in the city because every project is site specific. I will say that we have created a very good model of what we would like to accomplish for the future, [but] this is my fifth year on the City Council and we have not had a better deal than this one.”

In the accompanying video interview, we asked Councilman Constantinides, who represents the district where the project will be built, for his reaction to some of the councilmembers’ concerns about the lack of more affordable units.

“I hear their concerns, but with this project we got five percent designed for people at 60 percent of the AMI and 15 percent for people at 80 percent of the AMI, [which is an improvement from] when we started at 10 percent mandatory. No one development is going to solve the housing problem, but brick-by-brick we’re going to build up affordable housing,” said Constantinides.



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