Developers Struggle to Fill $546-a-Month Apartments in Downtown Brooklyn

By Janet Upadhye on August 4, 2014 7:34am | Updated on August 8, 2014 6:08pm

 The BAM North Site II is a 12-story, mixed-use, mixed-income building that offers 46 affordable units.
The BAM North Site II is a 12-story, mixed-use, mixed-income building that offers 46 affordable units.
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Dattner Architects

DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — Nine residential high-rises are coming to Downtown Brooklyn over the next three years — but affordable units in the luxury buildings, some priced as low as $546 a month for studios, are sitting empty because developers can't find locals qualified to fill them.

The affordable housing lottery at 66 Rockwell Place opened in March of 2013. After several lottery rounds, developers, who must give priority to local residents, could not find enough qualified applicants from Community Board 2 for the affordable units.

A spokesman for the building said people living in the neighborhood made too much money to qualify.

“It is very common that developers don’t fulfill their 50 percent community board preference quota,” said Orlando Ponce, a spokesman for 66 Rockwell Place who works for The Dermot Company, Inc. “The income level for people that live in these areas is just too high.”

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Ponce said the building still has affordable studios and one-bedrooms available, with prices ranging from $546 to $748 a month. It is unclear how many units are available.

The lottery, which is monitered by New York State Homes and Community Renewal and run by The Dermot Company, Inc., was expanded to all New York City residents who applied during the lottery process. No additional applications are being taken.

Rob Solano, director of Churches United For Fair Housing, says locals are being disqualified for silly errors and subpar credit scores.

Solano, along with local politicians and the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, hosted a workshop Thursday night at Brown Memorial Church in Clinton Hill to help Community Board 2 residents with their applications for affordable units in developments.

Projects including City Point Phase 2, Atlantic Yards and BAM North are set to offer 1,100 affordable housing units in the next three years.

There was a line down the block and approximately 800 residents packed the church.

"Look around, obviously this workshop is necessary," he told the crowded sanctuary. "There won’t be any more technicalities. We are going to make sure your applications are perfect.”

Solano gave tips on how to get applications seen by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which runs affordable housing lotteries for the city.

"They won't even look at applications that are sent in large envelopes or via Priority Mail," he said. "They will throw out paper applications that have whiteout on the sheets."

Solano added that couples who apply together but do not share finances can also be disqualified.

But most people are turned away because of late payments on student loans, credit card bills and rent checks.

“Developers say the biggest obstacle to getting affordable housing in Downtown Brooklyn is credit,” Public Advocate Letitia James said. “Raise your hand if you have an 800 credit score — I know I don’t.”

Lifelong Community Board 2 resident, Olu Alaka, has been denied housing in six Brooklyn buildings because of his credit score.

The 30-year-old caterer makes $27,000 a year and applied to 66 Rockwell Place in Downtown Brooklyn, Navy Green in Clinton Hill and 1133 Manhattan Ave. in Greenpoint but was denied because he filed for bankruptcy at age 22 after a former friend stole his credit card and ran up astronomical bills, he said.

Although he filed a police report for identity theft and is working to build up his credit score, he still does not qualify.

“They don’t care about your story,” he said. “They look at numbers and that’s all they see.”

But Alaka is not giving up hope. He currently has an application in for 60 Water St. in DUMBO and says his score has improved.

"It was my childhood dream to live by the water and the bridges off of Main Street," he said. "I have a good feeling this time."

And Solano is on a mission to get local residents into the units being built in their neighborhoods.

"I will stand on the street answering your questions until 3 a.m." he said. "This housing is for you and I will ensure you have the best chances possible to get it."

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