Megaproject Developers Promise To Get Around To Affordable Housing Someday

Is affordable housing too hard for developers to handle?

In a move that should shock no one, the developers of Atlantic Yards and Willets Point are dragging their feet when it comes to building the affordable housing components of their projects, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Atlantic Yards, crying “bad market,” has repeatedly delayed breaking ground on the 2,250 low- and middle-income units that were a major part of pushing the project through.

And Willets Point, promising another 1,750 affordable units, may finally have a development deal, but it will be a long time before any housing goes up. Housing is scheduled for the third stage of construction, long after the large retail center and hotel are finished.

Developers complain that unlike the other components of their boom-era projects, which can move forward even in an economy that is just regaining its footing, affordable housing is just not profitable (never mind that the other components of their project are). They’ll get around to it someday, of course. Just not anytime soon.

To be fair, Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner has had problems with all kinds of delays. But the sports arena is nearly finished and they have yet to break ground on the housing component. If they don’t start by May 2013, they’ll be slapped on the wrist with a $5 million fine.

Even Bruce Ratner’s new plan to use cheap pre-fab construction to build the affordable housing—the potential cost savings being the only part of the affordable housing plan that Mr. Ratner has shown enthusiasm for—do not seem to have sped anything up.

Building affordable housing ” is of course what we’re committed to doing at Atlantic Yards,” MaryAnne Gilmartin, executive vice president at Forest City Ratner, told The Journal. “But it turns out not to be so easy.”

She pointed to using union labor, the high costs of acquiring the land and high rise construction as things that made the affordable housing construction a Promethean task.

“We’re really trying to do something that isn’t something that’s been done on a large scale in the city before,” she said.

Buyer Beware! Neighborhood groups, who are now realizing they’ll be putting up with drunk fans for years before they get their housing, are ticked off about the delays. Although in Forest City Ratner’s defense, they never even pretended to care about the affordable housing component, leaving the towers as hazy, dream-like shapes in architectural renderings of the projects in which loving care was lavished on the arena.

Assemblyman James Brennan of Brooklyn wisely points out that letting developers do last the piece they want to do least is less than ideal.

“They should do the affordable housing up front, now,” he told The Journal. “The only legitimate selling point for the entire project was the affordable housing.” Megaproject Developers Promise To Get Around To Affordable Housing Someday