Editorial: State must keep Ratner on hook for affordable housing

It’s just nine little words buried deep in an appendix to a document drafted after a renegotiation, but this week’s revelation that state officials have tinkered with the language of their deal with Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner are a shocking reminder that our trusted public servants forget that they work for us.

The nine words in the Sept. 17 Empire State Development Corporation staff memo defy all previous agreements made between Ratner and the state about the developer’s requirement to include a sizeable number of below-market-rate units in the mega-project.

Previously, those units were an iron-clad promise. Now, according to the new language, the affordable housing is merely “subject to governmental authorities making available … affordable housing subsidies.”

Make no mistake: Ratner has always said that he would build the 2,250 rental units with the help of taxpayers, who pay for those housing subsidies as part of a larger goal of keeping the city affordable and its neighborhoods comprised of families of mixed incomes.

But in prior agreements, the language merely said that the developer “expected” to receive the subsidies to build the affordable housing. They never made the housing “subject to” receiving the subsidies.

Of course, we are confident that a developer of Ratner’s reputation will make good on his prior promises to build the affordable units, which gave the project virtually all of its political support.

Yet we are concerned because officials have failed — at every turn — to oversee a fair process so that the resulting mega-development meets the needs of the community. For example:

• When the development rights to the Atlantic Yards site were appraised at $217 million, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority gave it to Ratner for $100 million — despite a competing bid of $150 million.

• When the developer was short on cash, the MTA let him pay that $100 million over 22 years and allowed him to reduce his required rail yard improvements.

• When the developer promised Brooklyn a Frank Gehry-designed mini-city, state officials stood mute as Ratner fired Gehry and brought in a bunch of Midwesterners.

• When the developer said he needed the state to condemn some buildings in the Atlantic Yards footprint, the state started up the bulldozer instead of making a fair assessment of what lots are truly blighted and which ones are not. And if, indeed, all of the Atlantic Yards site is blighted, why is the state now allowing Ratner to take 22 years — until 2031 — to finish the project?

In each instance, if state officials had been better watchdogs, the resulting project would have been much better.

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