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NEW YORK CITY-$340 million in federal financing for Lower Manhattan multifamily projects approved yesterday at an unscheduled meeting of the New York State Housing Finance Agency has local watchdog groups baring their teeth. Housing advocates and anti-poverty groups are leveling harsh criticisms against the agency about the projects’ limited number of affordable-housing units.

All three new construction projects, the 293-unit 20 River Terrace in Battery Park City, 264-unit Battery Park City Site 19B and 287-unit 10 Liberty St., will include 95% market rate rental apartments and 5% affordable units. The funding is to be allocated through the Liberty Bond program, which has made $1.6 billion available for New York housing projects.

“I don’t think any taxpayers anticipated these resources would be used to build luxury housing,” says Bettina Damiani, project director for Good Jobs New York. “This is an opportunity to make Lower Manhattan a vibrant community. There are 78,000 New Yorkers out of work since Sept. 11 and the best the state can come up with is 5%? It’s unacceptable.” Damiani notes that most New York City buildings utilizing affordable-housing funds are financed on an 80-20 basis, reserving 20% of their units for lower-income residents.

HFA spokeswoman Sally Crockett counters that the Liberty Bond program does not include an affordable-housing requirement and that HFA’s 5% minimum on affordable units is self-imposed. “The Liberty Bond program is not an affordable-housing program, it’s an economic stimulus program,” she tells GlobeSt.com. “The legislation expressly states that there are no affordable-housing requirements associated with these bonds. I hear a lot of criticism connecting this to our 80-20 program, which is interesting, because this is a separate and distinct program with different functions and different goals. We continue to do 80-20s, as we always have.”

Crockett adds that changing the rental mix would negatively impact the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan. “We believe strongly that any more than 5% affordable housing would undermine the feasibility of these projects in the post-Sept. 11 economic climate. The 80-20 model is just not financially feasible Downtown. Construction costs have not changed but rents have fallen somewhere in the ballpark of 15%.” New considerations, such as the need for terrorism insurance, “makes the cost of a project skyrocket,” she notes.

“Tell that to the American taxpayer,” Damiani retorts. “If these funds are inappropriate to build affordable housing with then why is the HFA pushing these projects? Tell that to the homeless families that are sleeping in the emergency assistance units. This is not a vision with which to build Lower Manhattan.”

Victor Bach, director of housing policy at the Community Service Society of New York, tells GlobeSt.com that he has yet to find any research supporting the HFA’s contention that 80-20 projects are no longer a viable Downtown option.

“We haven’t seen any data indicating that it’s not feasible, that the numbers won’t work, that not one single low-income family will be able to live in those three developments,” he states. “We think that there needs to be a plan for how to use $1.6 billion in tax-exempt housing bonds. We need to maximize the degree to which these publicly subsidized bonds are used to help produce much-needed affordable housing in New York City.

“We’re asking for a plan,” Bach continues. “Unfortunately we have no idea what development will come up next and what, if any affordable housing will be built using the $1.6 billion. It’s possible that not one low-income family will be able to live in any of that housing. We’re not unreasonable. We’re willing to face the figures and the market. But we want a responsible statement from the governor and the mayor on the best use of these resources so they’re not squandered and lost. Until we get that, what’s wrong with 80-20? It’s a reasonable standard.

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