Just over a year ago, city officials and Knicks player Carmelo Anthony stood in the cavernous Bedford Union Armory in Crown Heights and announced plans to redevelop the historic structure into affordable housing, a recreation center, and condos. Last night, City Councilmember Laurie Cumbo revealed that the city wasn’t sure how much federal housing funding it would receive under the Trump administration, and that uncertainty was threatening negotiations over the city budget and affordable housing at the armory.
During a public meeting on the project at Medgar Evers College, she emphasized that she wouldn’t support the development unless it included more affordable housing that families in Crown Heights could afford.
“With the Trump administration coming in, we’re reducing the budget significantly and we’re trying to bring in as much housing subsidy as possible,” Cumbo said. “It’s difficult to figure out how we’ll move forward without the housing subsidy [for the armory].”
As part of their deal with the city’s Economic Development Corporation, the developers promised that that they wouldn’t accept any public subsidies to build affordable apartments at the armory, explained John Valladares of BFC Partners, which is co-developing the project. Without the subsidies, only half of the 330 rentals on the site will be affordable. Of those, only 20 percent would be affordable for neighbors in Crown Heights, where the median household income is $41,475, according to census data.
The current plans for the armory at 1555 Bedford Avenue include 165 below-market apartments, rented to families earning between 40 and 110 percent of the Area Median Income, and 12 condos for low- and middle-income households, Politico reported earlier this week. The remaining units, 165 rentals and 48 condos, would be rented and sold at market rates.
Cumbo added that she’s trying to negotiate city funding to make the whole project permanently affordable for families earning 50 or 60 percent of the Area Median Income ($48,960 for a family of three). However, the city doesn’t finalize its budget until June, and a lot could change—including at the federal level—in the next four months, she said.
Advocates are worried about the next four years of housing funding under a HUD headed by Ben Carson, a Republican-controlled Congress, and a president who believes social safety net programs encourage dependence on the government. Funding for Section 8 rental subsidies and public housing may end up on the chopping block. And low-income housing tax credits—which help finance affordable housing construction—have already begun to decline in value, as investors anticipate that Congress could dramatically lower the corporate tax rate.
For now, officials can’t say how the city’s budget or the armory redevelopment will be affected.
When asked for comment on the negotiations and the meeting, EDC spokesman Anthony Hogrebe said, “In the coming months we’ll continue to work with Council Member Cumbo and other community partners to deliver affordable recreation, community space and housing for the people of Crown Heights.”
Last month, four other Crown Heights electeds threw their support behind 100 percent affordable housing at the armory. Then they filed a FOIL request demanding a detailed breakdown of how the redevelopment is being financed.
Last night’s meeting offered a few more details on the finances. BFC said they signed a 99-year lease with the city that required them to pay $2 million a year. That applies to the armory’s drill shed (slated to become the rec center), the head house along Bedford Avenue, and a garage, which would be demolished to make way for the 15-story rental building. The former horse stables along President Street will become a 60-unit condo building, which the city will sell to BFC.
The 68,000-square-foot rec center will host a pool, basketball courts, and community space for meetings. The head house will become 40,700 square feet of office space for non-profits and community groups. And the first few floors of the rental building will hold 26,400 square feet of educational space for local schools.
The city’s Economic Development Corporation originally tapped BFC Partners and Slate to develop the 138,000-square-foot building in December 2015. Last spring, Slate got caught up in a scandal over lifting the deed restriction for Rivington House, a nursing home slated to become condos in the Lower East Side. Facing pressure from the de Blasio administration and local activists, Slate pulled out of the armory deal in August 2016.
BFC has stayed on the project and partnered with CAMBA, a non-profit affordable developer based in Flatbush. Marvel Architects is handling the design.
Going forward, the city and the developers plan to rezone the block-long site between Union and President Streets, to make way for the 15-story rental building. Officials rescheduled a public scoping meeting for the rezoning originally set for last week, and the new meeting will to take place on March 7, 2017 (at a to-be-determined time and location). Then the development would enter the seven-month-long public review process this spring or summer. The mayor is also expected to host a Crown Heights town hall, where he would answer questions about the armory, in late February or early March.