Talk about being shortchanged.
The city refuses to give local lawmakers financial information on the redevelopment plan for the publicly owned Bedford-Union Armory, potentially obstructing opportunities to include more affordable housing in the scheme that calls for 50-plus luxury condos, according to a state senator.
“Mr. Mayor, why aren’t you giving us the financials for a project that is our land, our money … supposedly for housing for us?” State Sen. Jesse Hamilton (D–Crown Heights) said at a public meeting about the project on Aug. 2. “Because if they show it to us, we can have 100-percent affordable. But they don’t want 100-percent affordable.”
The city and private developer BFC Partners are seeking public approval to build dozens of below-market-rate rental units and a community recreation center at the historic military structure on Bedford Avenue between President and Union streets.
But neighbors continue to blast the project’s affordable housing — which prices only 18 of more than 330 rental units at rates within the means of community members — as severely lacking.
And the state senator also doubts that below-market-rate rents could fund the operation of the rec center, noting that area residents would be the first to lose access to the facility if that revenue fails to maintain it.
“So what happens? The rec center loses money,” Hamilton said at the meeting. “So they raise the fees so the people from the community who should have been using it can’t use it.”
The pol first asked the mayor’s office for the deal’s financial details last October, including information on construction costs, the project’s debt structure, and a breakdown of the rec center’s operating costs and expected revenue, a spokesman said.
But the city refused to hand anything over, forcing Hamilton to file a second request under the Freedom of Information Act for “any and all documents pertaining to” the armory redevelopment, according to his rep Ean Fullerton.
The city answered that request on March 7, but it did not supply all relevant information, according to Fullerton, who said reps for the Economic Development Corporation invited the senator to review some financial documents at their office, but did not provide copies that he could review without agency supervision.
Officials eventually gave the pol a one-page financial overview of the nearly $200-million project after he refused to review material in the city’s presence, which he said still withheld certain details.
“In Sen. Hamilton’s opinion, what they provided omitted vital analysis, assumptions, and numbers that would be in a financial statement,” Fullerton said. “Sen. Hamilton believes what [the EDC] submitted did not have the level of detail that [BFC Partners] provided to the EDC.”
The city, however, claims the document offers a full breakdown of the deal and proves that it serves the community and is economically viable, according to an Economic Development Corporation spokeswoman.
“We’ve made full financial information on the project public to the state senator and anyone else seeking it,” said Stephanie Baez. “It is 100-percent clear how the project balances costs of providing a new community rec center, affordable housing, and space for local non-profits — achieving the objectives this community has sought for many years.”
When asked for the financial information by this newspaper, Baez said to submit a Freedom of Information Law request or consult state Sen. Hamilton, whose staff ultimately provided it.
According to the document, the developer will net a profit of just more than $737,000 from condo sales, and an annual cash flow of nearly $800,000 from rentals. A red, zig-zagging arrow indicates a relationship between the cash flow from rental units and the rec center, but it is not immediately apparent how one affects the other.