BY MARCO POGGIO
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and other elected officials announced Tuesday an agreement with the developers of the controversial waterfront project called Astoria Cove to include 27 percent of affordable housing, the highest rate ever reached in the city’s history.
The pact between the City Council and Alma Realty, was reached after a ping-ponged negotiation that began last April and carried on in a heated political climate in City Hall.
“It is really an historic moment for the City Council,” Mark-Viverito said, singling out Queens Councilman Costa Constantinides for special praise in hammering out the agreement.
“We are proud to reach this goal by passing this historic agreement,” Constantinides said amid applause.
When the project was announced in 2013, the developer offered to build only 10 percent of affordable units. But with the mediation of the de Blasio administration and the elected officials, including Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, it was pushed up to 20 percent.
At that point, Constantinides thought he could ask for more. After months of talks and political skirmish, the Council reached the final deal with John Mavroudis, a top negotiator for Alma Realty.
The negotiation was also successful in guaranteeing a fully unionized workforce both during and after construction.
The 2.2-million-square-foot complex on the banks of the East River will include a public school, a library and a park.
A brand new ferry landing will create a waterside access to neighborhood, currently underserved by public transportation, and will help it connect to Manhattan, Long Island City and Brooklyn.
The deal struck by the City Council marks the first time a development is mandated by law to provide permanent affordable units, in a moment in which the city has a record homeless population of 60,000.
Over 460 units at Astoria Cove will be affordable.
Five percent of the development will be set aside for tenants whose income is 60 percent of the Area Median Income ¾roughly $50,000 a year, who will pay rates around $800 a month.
Fifteen percent of the units will be reserved for families making 80 percent of the AMI, corresponding to nearly $67,000 a year, whose rent will touch $1,200 a month.
The remaining 7 percent of the units will be rented for $1,800 a month to families earning 125 percent of the AMI, which translates to a $105,000 yearly income.
Although Astoria Cove represents a step forward in the implementation of affordable housing policies, criticism about affordability around the city has not deflated.
“Twenty-seven percent isn’t really going to help,” said Yonah Lieberman, a community organizer with Metropolitan Council on Housing, a tenant union that formed in 1959 and has since been on the line for tenant rights.
“We know we can build 50 percent affordable, and we can build union,” Lieberman told the Brooklyn News Service, criticizing Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen.
Last September, at a time when negotiations with Alma Realty were in full blast, Glen expressed concerns that pushing for 50 percent of affordability could have jeopardized the chance for any kind of deal.
In the case of Astoria Cove, the negotiation for the 27 percent of affordability felt already like a real gamble.
“It’s not an easy thing to do,” City Council Member Mark Weprin, Zoning and Franchises Committee chairman said about the agreement.
“I know there are people out there saying ‘It should be more’,” Weprin said, “I’m telling you: if we push for more we might as well get nothing. That’s how close we came on this.”
The formulation of affordability, however, is far from being impeccable.
The federal government set the AMI for New York City for a family of four at $84,000, a threshold that many residents and advocates say does not reflect the actual median income of the less affluent communities across the five boroughs.
Community District One, which includes Astoria, has a median household income just shy of $51,000 for a family of four, according to an estimate made by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The AMI calculation currently take into consideration income levels of the entire metropolitan area of New York City, which includes the most affluent neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn, as well as wealthy areas in Long Island.
In recent times, however, the City Council has discussed the possibility to recalculate the AMI based on the income of specific districts, a move that has been warmly received by housing rights advocates.
“We need to rethink the way we define affordable,” Lieberman said. “Eighty-four thousand is a ton of money.”
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