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Bushwick Shafted on Affordable Units at Rheingold Brewery Site: Councilman

By Gwynne Hogan | June 26, 2017 12:38pm
 Construction is well under way at All Management's portion of the Rheingold development.
Construction is well under way at All Management's portion of the Rheingold development.
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DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

BUSHWICK — The neighborhood will get shafted 88 affordable apartments at the massive Rheingold development — four percent fewer than promised — after the builder declined to honor the previous owner's non-binding agreement with the city.

The news comes as a "disenchanting" resolution to a four-year-long fight waged by community advocates pushing for greater affordability at the sprawling site of the former Rheingold brewery.

The city has no legal recourse to get the Rabsky Group and All Year Management — two developers currently building 1,411 new apartments adjacent complexes  — to comply with the 2013 agreement that promised 24 percent affordable apartments at the site, said Louise Carroll, the Associate Commissioner of Housing Incentives at the city's Department of Housing and Preservation at Wednesday night's meeting.

“We had no legal right to require anything more than 20 percent affordable housing as stated by the zoning resolution,” she said. Carroll has spent the last several months consulting the Law Department, the developers and community members about the 2013 rezoning, she said. 

"We tried and we sought advice and that's the limit of our [power]," Carroll said.

Community Board Chair Julie Dent, who helped advocate for more for affordable housing at the site when the project first came before the community four years ago, was outraged by the news.

"It's too many games being played between all of these agencies and these developers," Dent said. "It has to stop somewhere."

"Don't promise us one thing and we vote favorably and then we get something else," Dent said. "HPD and all the government agencies are supposed to protect the community."

The builders defended their interpretation of the affordable housing agreement.

"The notion that the developer reneged on its agreement is absolutely inaccurate," Lisa Serbaniewicz, a spokeswoman for Rabsky, said. "At the Rheingold site, Rabsky made and is honoring the commitment of offering 20 percent of the units as affordable."

Tension surrounding the Rheingold site dates back to 2013, when the land's former owner Read Property Group began to rezone the property for residential use, sparking protests and sleep-ins by residents advocating for more affordable housing. A controversial and potentially illegal private vote by the community board triggered further outrage. 

Discussions continued until the evening of the City Council's approval of the rezoning, when former Councilwoman Diana Reyna signed off on the rezoning with Read Property Group based on the developer's pledge to build 24 percent affordable apartments on their property and to give another piece of land to non-profit housing developer Churches United for Fair Housing to build another six percent affordable housing, bringing the site's total to 30 percent.

But soon after Read Property Group split up the property — selling it off in hunks to Joel Goldman of All Year Management who paid $140.7 million for two sections of it and to the Rabsky Group which paid $33.1 million, property records show.

And since they purchased the properties, both developers have been dragging their heels in complying with Read Property Group's pledges to hire local residents, build 24 percent affordable apartments and to build three bedroom apartments, according to community advocates and local City Councilman Antonio Reynoso's office.

In total, about 20 affordable apartments are missing from the Rabsky Group's site at 10 Montieth St. where they're building 100 subsidized and 400 market rate apartments. And 36 apartments are missing from All Year Management's site where they're building 183 of 911 subsidized apartments.

Advocates say that while both developers have increased the number of apartments on their properties, the senior housing site is still only slated to get 75 apartments. That means that in order to get 30 percent affordable units at the whole site there are another 32 missing apartments that would have to be spread out between the two sites.

"That's just 88 less families we can keep in the neighborhood," said Daniel.

Reynoso, whose office has been working with the developers to try to get them to stick to the 2013 agreement, said they should hold the developers accountable at future projects so this doesn't happen again.

He pointed to a controversial rezoning currently making its way through the Land Use process where the Rabsky Group wants to build 1,146-unit complex in the Broadway Triangle of Williamsburg, an area represented by Councilman Stephen Levin.

Reynoso has butted heads with Levin over the rezoning in the past and demanded that his colleague take what's happening in Bushwick into consideration when overseeing that rezoning. 

"If he doesn't hold them accountable for what they did here, how they abandoned the community, then all these developers are going to run wild, make huge commitments and keep running away from communities," Reynoso said.

A spokesman for All Year Management declined to comment.