July 23, 2014 By Michael Florio
The developers who plan to build nearly 1,700 apartments on the Astoria waterfront only intend to build the bare minimum of affordable units required under new city policy—despite announcing plans last week to boost the number.
Alma Realty, which plans to build 5 mixed-use towers as part of the Astoria Cove development, announced last week that it will increase the number of affordable units from 295 to 345. This represents an increase from 17% to 20% of the 1,689-proposed complex.
However, under New York’s inclusionary zoning program, the de Blasio administration is now making it mandatory that all big developers build at least 20% of their units to be affordable. This new rule applies to Astoria Cove.
“This is going to be the first project under the inclusionary housing program where the amount of affordable housing is mandatory,” said Howard Weiss, the attorney for Alma Realty.
Therefore Alma, which plans to build 20% affordable, is offering the minimum. Furthermore, Alma has said that it has no intention to build more, citing the economic viability of the project.
As a result, Alma continues to take a battering from low-income housing advocates and Community Board 1 for not putting forward a proposal with enough affordable units.
Community Board 1 voted to deny Alma Realty’s proposal (which calls for zoning changes) unless it raises the number of affordable units to 590, equating to about 35 percent of the units.
“We would like as much [affordable housing] as we can get,” said Community Board 1 manager Lucille Hartmann. “We recommended 35 percent, but if it is 33 percent we are not going to go crazy, but we want more than 20 percent.”
While the board’s vote is non-binding it does have an influence on lawmakers—particularly Councilman Costa Constantinides—who will vote on the development should it go all the way to the city council.
Nevertheless, Alma believes the community board and housing advocates are asking too much.
“Thirty five percent is not a realistic number,” Weiss said. He said the developer would be footing the bill covering the costs associated with the affordable housing units.
Weiss said the entire project is being financed by the developer. The developer is not tapping into public subsidies to help cover the cost.
“We are not looking for any funding from the city or participating in any city financial programs,” Weiss said.
However, Weiss said that people need to take a look at the big picture when evaluating the Astoria Cove proposal.
He said the developer is not only offering affordable housing but it is donating land for a public school and doubling the amount of open space, among other items.
The proposal is undergoing review by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who is expected to make her non-binding recommendation by July 30. She won’t comment on the issue until then.
Constantinides would not to comment on Alma’s announcement that 20% of the units would be affordable.
However, in a statement, Constantinides spoke more broadly: “We have some concerns about affordability, jobs, and adequate public transportation in the proposed development and we are working with the stakeholders to address these issues.”