Volume 17, Number 47 | April 15 — 21, 2005

Keeping the housing promise at B.P.C.

Almost 40 years after the Battery Park City master plan called for affordable housing in the planned community that would be built and 16 years after the promise was shifted to require B.P.C. money to be shifted to pay for affordable housing throughout the city, Mayor Mike Bloomberg said Tuesday that government’s word has value and the promise will finally be kept.

We commend the mayor for this decision. That it took him four years to make it is understandable given the dot-com bust, the recession, 9/11 and generally tough budgetary times.

Credit must also go to City Comptroller Bill Thompson, who by all indications convinced Bloomberg that there was much to lose by following the poor example of the mayor’s immediate predecessors.

The decision to build the affordable housing outside of B.P.C. may very well have had merit since more low-rent apartments could have been built away from the valuable waterfront property Downtown. But then the promise was amended unforgivably to cover the city’s short-term budget shortfalls.

Blame can be shared between the Democrats and Republicans who have been governor, mayor and city comptroller sine 1989. We must single out former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, however, who did precious little to build affordable housing even though he was fortunate enough to govern when tax receipts were flush in the late 1990s.

The mayors, governors and comptrollers have been the ones controlling the shift of the money, which comes from the payments in lieu of taxes collected by the Battery Park City Authority.

The authority and its park conservancy have done an extraordinary job managing the development of a model neighborhood with parks that are enjoyed by people living nearby and far away. But part of the deal was that some of the money would go for better housing for the poor.

In Battery Park City, we’d like to see “80-20 buildings” where 20-percent of the apartments are below market rates in any remaining rental towers built, and we hope the deal to extend the expiring middle class rent protections at Gateway Plaza is sealed quickly.

Housing advocates estimate that less than 15 percent of the $1 billion that should have been going to below-market housing was used that way. Sadly this money was spent long ago and cannot be recovered without causing pain. But looking forward, Bloomberg and Thompson have pledged to spend about $130 million in excess B.P.C. revenue over the next four years to preserve or build 4,500 affordable apartments – 3,000 more than the mayor had been planning. Gov. Pataki is expected to sign onto the deal soon to create a new housing trust.

In years to come, it will be much harder for these men’s successors to shift the money away from affordable housing because they will have to go up against a seasoned group of housing leaders with long memories.

And Mayor Bloomberg and Comptroller Thompson will be remembered as having finally done the right thing.

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