Volume 74, Number 50 | April 20 - 26 , 2005

Villager photo by Jennifer Weisbord

An affordable-housing activist rallied after the announcement at City Hall that Battery Park City funds will be used to create and preserve affordable housing.

Battery funds will power housing effort

By Josh Rogers

The city’s mayor and comptroller said Tuesday they would stop breaking the 16-year-old promise to use money from Battery Park City to build affordable housing.

“We are going to keep the promise,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg told cheering housing advocates at City Hall after he outlined a plan to spend $130 million over four years to build or preserve an additional 3,000 apartments for low-income tenants.

The money comes out of the excess revenue the Battery Park City Authority collects and turns over to the city every year. The 25-year-old Lower Manhattan neighborhood, built in part on World Trade Center construction rubble, was originally going to have a majority of apartments for low- and middle-income tenants, but the plan was changed in the 1980s, first so that the money could be used for affordable housing all over the city and later to allow the city to use the money for budget shortfalls.

The money is put into a fund controlled by the mayor, comptroller and the B.P.C.A., a state public authority that develops and manages the Lower Manhattan neighborhood.

City Comptroller Bill Thompson, a driving force behind the announcement, said the agreement means “thousands of hard-working New Yorkers and their families will be able to live in our city without having to choose between paying the rent and buying food.”

Mary Brosnahan Sullivan, executive director for the Coalition of the Homeless, said she has been trying to redirect these B.P.C. funds for her entire 15 years at the coalition and that it was Thompson who was able to make sure it happened.

“It’s an extraordinary day,” she said after the announcement. “The comptroller called the bluff and said to the mayor he’s going to come out alone if you don’t support this.”

Downtown Express, sister publication to The Villager, reported April 1 that Thompson was working on a plan to use the money for affordable housing. At the announcement, Bloomberg said Thompson deserves as much credit as anyone in his administration, and mayoral appointee Shaun Donovan, commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said it would not have happened without the comptroller’s leadership.

Bloomberg and his Democratic opponents all promised to use the B.P.C. money for affordable housing in 2001, but on Tuesday he said that after Sept. 11 the city economy was reeling and he knew he would not be able to keep the promise when he took office in January 2002. At the end of 2003, the mayor came out with a plan to build or preserve 65,000 affordable apartments and some housing advocates were disappointed it did not include use of B.P.C. money.

The $130 million from B.P.C. will go to a New York City Housing Trust Fund, which will be the largest such fund in the country, said Donovan. The money will fund 4,500 apartments and represents a net gain of 3,000 apartments over the mayor’s original goal of 65,000 affordable apartments by 2008. Bloomberg said the city has preserved or created 26,000 below-market-rate-rent apartments, which includes last year’s agreements at West Village Houses and Independence Plaza in Tribeca, two Mitchell-Lama complexes that faced buyouts.

Donovan said all of the excess B.P.C. revenue will go into the fund over the next four years and that the mayor and governor should sign a deal within a few weeks. The mayor did not want a longer-term agreement for the money because it would tie the hands of future administrations, said H.P.D. Commissioner Donovan.

“We plan to spend the money immediately,” Donovan said.

Governor George Pataki is expected to sign off on the agreement. Last week, he told a Villager reporter it was up to the city to decide to use the B.P.C. money for affordable housing and his spokesperson said Tuesday that the governor is inclined to back Bloomberg and Thompson. “We are supportive of this plan and will be working with them,” said Lynn Rasic, the spokesperson.

Bertha Lewis, executive director of ACORN, a nonprofit grassroots activist group, criticized all three men last year at a rally in Battery Park City but had nothing but praise for Thompson and Bloomberg Tuesday. “It’s a bold move, it’s a practical move,” she said “It is a move for New York City.”

Shirley Mayes, 60, who attended the City Hall rally said, “I am happy and I’m not happy.” She was happy to hear more money would be spent on housing, but was not sure it would help her.

She pays $150 a month for her five-story walkup in the Bronx and $250 comes every month under the federally-subsidized Section 8 housing program to cover the balance of her $400 rent. “I have been living there almost 14 years,” she said, “and I’m tired of walking up.”

Hayes said she had to pay $25 for a credit check to apply for low-income housing on 149th St. in the Bronx, but she is sure she won’t get it because she makes less than the income requirement, $18,000 a year.

Jackie Delvella, who works for New Settlement Houses, where Hayes lives, said the B.P.C. plan won’t solve all housing problems. But, he said, “This is an important first step.”

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