Volume 17, Number 48 | April 22 — 28, 2005

Renewing the B.P.C promise

By Josh Rogers

“We are going to keep the promise,” Mayor Mike Bloomberg told cheering housing advocates – the types that usually come to City Hall to protest. “I like this kind of crowd. Come back.”

The broken promise to use excess Battery Park City revenues for affordable housing was made in 1989 and has been a bone of contention ever since. The mayor and city Comptroller Bill Thompson outlined a plan Tuesday to spend $130 million over four years to build or preserve an additional 3,000 apartments for low-income tenants.

The money comes out of the payments in lieu of taxes the Battery Park City Authority collects and turns over to the city every year. The 25-year-old neighborhood was originally going to have a majority of apartments for low and middle-income tenants, but the plan was changed in the 1980s, first so that the money could be used for affordable housing all over the city and later to allow the city to use the money for budget shortfalls.

The money is put into a fund controlled by the mayor, comptroller and the B.P.C.A., a state public authority that develops and manages the neighborhood.

Gov. George Pataki, who controls the B.P.C.A., told Downtown Express last Thursday that it is up to the city to decide how to use the B.P.C. money. He is not expected to block the new plan. Bloomberg and Thompson said they were optimistic, and after the announcement, Lynn Rasic, Pataki’s spokesperson, said the governor was inclined to back the proposal. “We are supportive of this plan and will be working with them,” Rasic said.

Thompson, a driving force behind the announcement, said the agreement means “thousands of hard working New Yorkers and their families will be able to live in our city without having to choose between paying the rent and buying food.”

Mary Brosnahan Sullivan, executive director for the Coalition of the Homeless, said she has been trying to redirect these B.P.C. funds for her entire 15 years at the coalition and it was Thompson who was able to make sure it happenned.

“It’s an extraordinary day,” she said after the announcement. “The comptroller called the bluff and said to the mayor he’s going to come out alone if you don’t support this.”

Thompson was set to announce the plan two weeks ago, just after his plans were reported in Downtown Express’ UnderCover column. At the announcement, Bloomberg said Thompson deserves as much credit as anyone in his administration, and mayoral appointee Shaun Donovan, commissioner of Housing Preservation and Development, said it would not have happened without the comptroller’s leadership.

Bloomberg and his Democratic opponents all promised to use the B.P.C. money for affordable housing in 2001, but on Tuesday the mayor said that after Sept. 11 the city economy was reeling and he knew he would not be able to keep the promise when he took office in January 2002. At the end of 2003, the mayor came out with a plan to build or preserve 65,000 affordable apartments and some housing advocates were disappointed the plan did not include B.P.C. money.

The $130 million from B.P.C. will go to a New York City Housing Trust Fund, which will be the largest such fund in the country, Donovan said. The money will pay for 4,500 apartments and represents a net gain of 3,000 apartments over the mayor’s original goal of saving or building 65,000 affordable apartments by 2008. Bloomberg said the city has reached 26,000 below-market apartments, which includes last year’s agreement at Independence Plaza in Tribeca.

A coalition of housing groups known as Affordable Housing Here & Now estimates that of the $1 billion in Battery Park City money that was once intended to be spent on affordable housing, only $143 million was used for that purpose.

H.P.D.’s Donovan said: “It’s about the dollars, but it’s also about keeping faith with all of you and with all New Yorkers about providing the affordable housing that all of us need to remain in New York City and to help our families grow.”

Some of the money will go to rent subsidies for people who make too much money to qualify for federal assistance, such as a family of four making between $30,000 and $50,000 a year, Donovan said. “We plan to spend the money immediately.”

There are several sites around the city being considered for housing projects, Donovan said, but none are in Lower Manhattan. During a press conference, Bloomberg noted how well the Downtown residential market has bounced back after Sept. 11.

Donovan said all of the excess B.P.C. revenue will go into the fund over the next four years and the mayor and governor should sign a deal within a few weeks.

The mayor did not want a longer-term agreement for the money because it would tie the hands of future administrations, said Donovan. Bloomberg had floated the idea of using $350 million of B.P.C. money for the expansion of the Javits Center in Midtown, but that idea was blocked by Thompson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Housing Here & Now estimates that if the B.P.C. money were committed over 20 years as opposed to four, 7,000 – 10,000 affordable apartments could be saved or built, compared to the 4,500 under the current plan.

Bertha Lewis, executive director of ACORN and a member of the housing alliance, criticized the governor, mayor and comptroller last year at a rally in Battery Park City but had nothing but praise for Thompson and Bloomberg Tuesday. “It’s a bold move, it’s a practical move,” she said “It is a move for New York City.” She said she would deal with future administrations in the future.

Shirley Mayes, 60, who attended the City Hall rally said, “I am happy and I’m not happy.” She was happy to hear more money would be spent on housing, but was not sure it would help her.

She pays $150 a month herself for her five-story walkup in the Bronx and gets an additional $250 every month under the federally-subsidized Section 8 housing program. “I have been living there almost 14 years and I’m tired of walking up,” she said.

Hayes said she had to pay $25 for a credit check to apply for low-income housing in an elevator building on 149th St. in the Bronx, but she is sure she won’t get it because she makes less than the income requirement, $18,000 a year.

Jackie Delvella, who works for New Settlement Houses where Hayes lives, said the B.P.C. plan won’t solve all housing problems but “this is an important first step.”


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