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Atlantic Yards Affordable Housing Plan Accelerated by State, Local Groups

 Affordable housing is set to come to Atlantic Yards sooner than planned under a deal between Forest City Ratner and New York state.
Affordable housing is set to come to Atlantic Yards sooner than planned under a deal between Forest City Ratner and New York state.
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DNAinfo/Rachel Holliday Smith

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — After years of delays, the Atlantic Yards developer has agreed to move forward with long-awaited affordable housing project they promised to build behind the Barclays Center, advocates say.

In a new plan worked out following pressure by the state, mayor’s office and several community groups, developer Forest City Ratner will be required, among other things, to complete all affordable housing at the site by 2025, or face fines of $2,000 per unit, per month, advocates say. The completion date is a decade sooner than had been included in a previous timeline, according to a community member involved in the negotiations.

The developer is also required to start construction this year on two residential buildings comprised of only affordable units or risk millions of dollars in fines, enforceable by a new oversight board, according to the governor’s office.

News of the agreement was first reported by The New York Times.

As part of the plan, the two new buildings must have at least 590 units meant for low- to middle-income tenants, Gov. Cuomo’s office said.

Construction on the first tower, located at Carlton Avenue and Dean Street, must begin by December. Construction on the second tower, located at Sixth Avenue and Dean Street behind the Barclays Center, must begin by March 2015.

Once completed, the units in those buildings will be available to low-, moderate- and middle-income families making between 35 and 165 percent of the area median income, or, roughly between $26,000 and $138,000 per year for a four-person household, the mayor’s office said.

The plan also puts in place significant penalties if Forest City Ratner does not meet short and long-term construction deadlines.

The developer will have to pay $5 million in fines if it doesn't meet deadlines for each of the two all-affordable buildings.

Gib Veconi, a member of BrooklynSpeaks, a coalition of community groups involved in hammering out the deal, said he's confident the heightened penalties for Forest City are significant enough to ensure a "real deadline" for the project.

“It’s a really significant change,” Veconi said of the plan. "In Brooklyn, getting 590 [affordable] apartments online sooner is a major accomplishment."

The agreement also puts in place a state-mandated subsidiary, the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation, a 14-person board that will enforce the project's deadlines and fines, if necessary, Veconi said.

“We wanted to make sure there’s transparency in enforcing these obligations,” he said.

Not everyone in the neighborhood is happy with that enforcement, however. The president of the Dean Street Block Association, located directly south of the project, said the new board created by the agreement is advisory and may not have the teeth to keep Forest City Ratner in line.

“The history of Atlantic Yards is that the devil is in the details," said Rhona Hetsrony, the block association’s President. "What is delivered is rarely more than what is spelled out in written agreements.”

Forest City Ratner representatives said they are "pleased" with the new plan, despite the new deadlines, potential fines and increased oversight.

"We recognize the critical need to bring affordable housing to market and are proud to deliver on this public good with our state, city and community partners," said MaryAnne Gilmartin, president and C.E.O. of Forest City Ratner Companies. "Today is very much a new day for the Atlantic Yards project."

Both the mayor and the governor cheered the plan Friday, as well. Mayor Bill de Blasio said he is “determined” to jumpstart affordable housing at the Atlantic Yards site.

“The agreement means two 100-percent affordable buildings will go in the ground starting next year, with units serving a more diverse range of families,” the mayor said.

“This agreement is a win for the state and most importantly for Brooklyn residents who will finally begin to see affordable buildings being constructed in their neighborhoods,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.