GOLES Calls for 70% Affordable Housing on SPURA

Photo by A. Jesse Jiryu Davis.

A week from Monday, Community Board 3’s SPURA task force is scheduled to vote on a set of planning guidelines for the Seward Park development site.  Late last night, a key player in CB3’s deliberations, GOLES (Good Old Lower East Side), sent an email blast to its supporters, urging them to attend the January 24th meeting and, for the first time, laying out publicly a position on the CB3 proposal:

NO JANUARY VOTE UNLESS IT’S FOR MORE LOW AND MODERATE INCOME HOUSING

Last month the people of the Lower East Side beat back the City’s proposal to give up to 60% of our land to those who can pay $6000 a month for rent. In the spirit of justice and reconciliation GOLES members propose 70% housing for low, moderate and middle income families. Tell the Community Board and the City that the real Lower East Side – that means our families, the working class backbone of this great neighborhood – won’t relent until the plan is right.

The current version of the guidelines call for 50% affordable (low, middle, moderate and senior) housing and 50% market rate housing. Specifically, the document states:

The mixed-income character of the neighborhood must be reflected in the development plan for the sites. Accordingly: Approximately 50 percent of all units should be available at market-rate values. Approximately 10 percent of all units must be reserved for middle-income (max. income $130,000) households. Approximately 10 percent of all units must be reserved for moderate-income (max. income $100,000) households. Approximately 20 percent of all units must be reserved for low-income (max. income $40,000) households. Approximately 10 percent of all units must be reserved for seniors

A week ago (just before a meeting of its members to discuss the guidelines) GOLES Executive Director Damaris Reyes spoke with me about some of her concerns.  As CB3’s planning consultant has noted, generous tax breaks are available to developers who set aside 20% of their buildings for low income housing. The city, Reyes argued, can do better than offering the minimum amount any developer would agree to provide anyway.

She also criticized the city’s insistence that the SPURA project must pay for itself, rather than being partially supported by government subsidies.  All along, NYC planning officials have contended the market rate housing and commercial enterprises must pay for the affordable housing.

Reyes suggested this stance is a convenient but wrong-headed way of circumventing a confrontation between affordable housing advocates and Grand Street residents (many of whom object to devoting a majority of the project to low/moderate income apartments).  But in her view, the city should be pursuing every avenue (including steeply discounting the price of the 10 development sites) in order to stabilize the affordable housing stock in a gentrifying neighborhood.

There’s always a lot of speculation about what GOLES wants from the SPURA process.  In past Seward Park battles, they have staged dramatic attention-grabbing protests, which some people believe helped  derail various city-backed redevelopment plans. But the group also has a history of pragmatism. In 2008, for example, Reyes sided with the community board in supporting the controversial rezoning of the LES, much to the chagrin of some of the neighborhood’s most vehement affordable housing activists.  This time around, it remains to be seen whether GOLES will stay at the negotiating table or walk away from nearly three years of deliberations, holding out for a better deal in the years to come.

David Quart of the NYC Economic Development Corp. has said the city needs a demonstration from the community board that it is united on a general plan for SPURA before committing to costly environmental impact studies and urban design work. SPURA committee chair David McWater has indicated he wants a unanimous vote.

If GOLES doesn’t get 70% affordable housing (and it’s virtually certain they won’t), Reyes might very well vote against the plan.  That vote, however, might not carry much weight unless other affordable housing advocates on the panel joined them.

One GOLES ally, CB3 member Harvey Epstein, told me last week he wants more affordable units than the guidelines call for (including more low income housing).  Mary Spink, another CB3 member and a non-profit affordable housing developer, said she’s comfortable with the guidelines and intends to vote “yes.”   Some observers believe most of the committee’s housing activists will press as hard as they can, but in the end, will not stand in the way of a SPURA deal, which appears closer today than at any time in the past four decades.