The planned 65-story luxury residential tower and commercial center to be called City Point would be the tallest building in Brooklyn. It has become a flash point for the frustration and anger of many longtime residents of downtown Brooklyn and Fort Greene who have lost their homes or been priced-out of their communities by the recent development boom that has swept the area since the city re-zoned the district in 2004.
Flatbush Avenue and Dekalb Avenue bound the site to the east and south, and Gold Street and Willoughby Street to the west and north. Construction on the still empty, fenced-in site is slated to start in 2009.
To build the tower, Albee Residential Development, a coalition of development corporations, tore down the beloved but outdated mall at Fulton Street - better known by its original name, the Albee Square Mall - which displaced countless small business owners. No residents have been displaced by the project, according to a New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) official. The official, Janel Paterson, wrote in an email the City Point development is expected to generate approximately 4,200 new jobs in the area.
Community members say the new developments are pricing them out of the neighborhood.
"They're just trying to kick us out and that's not fair," said Diana Smith referring to City Point. Smith is a board member of the advocacy group Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE), and a Fort Greene resident since 1955. "I want [City Point] to act like we're human beings and housing is a human right."
At the December 8 public hearing on City Point, FUREE, community members and others protested the development's lack of affordable housing and questioned the developer's recent request from the city for $400 million in tax-exempt bonds.
Under the Taxable 80/20 Program run by the New York City Housing Development Corporation (HDC), new residential developments that rent at least 20 percent of their apartments as affordable housing units qualify for tax-exempt bonds from the city. These bonds are used to help finance building construction.
Albee Residential Development and HDC are pledging to set aside one-quarter of the tower's 800 housing units as affordable housing apartments for lower-income people. Theo Moore, a lead organizer at FUREE, said his organization is asking the HDC to increase the percentage of affordable housing units in the new development.
Councilwoman Letitia James, who attended the public hearing, said the city needs to do more to secure affordable housing at City Point. "I think there's compelling evidence in support of raising the affordable housing percentage to a higher number," James said in an interview.
When the Albee Square Mall opened on the site in 1980 it was hailed as a pillar of the vibrant Fulton Street shopping district. The mall became a popular spot in the commercial corridor along Fulton Street, but went into decline as the decade wore on.
In 1990, Forest City Ratner purchased the mall and renamed it the Gallery at Metrotech. Ratner promised to transform the mall into a higher-end shopping center but the plan never materialized.
Thor Equities bought the mall from Ratner for $25 million in 2001 (renaming it the Gallery at Fulton Mall), and sold it to Albee Residential Development for $125 million six years later.
Albee Residential spent an additional $25 million to purchase the land beneath the mall from the city.
Moore said the fact that the new luxury tower will be built on former city land only adds to the pain felt by the surrounding community. "If the city's going to sell its land there should be stipulations for members of the neighborhood to afford to live there," Moore said.
Yet even if this happens, said Moore, and City Point provided for more affordable housing units, it would still be extremely difficult for area residents to afford the cheaper apartments.
That is because the city's definition of "affordable" housing, said Moore, is far out of reach for many less affluent Brooklynites.
The HDC uses the greater New York area's average median income (AMI) to determine housing affordability requirements. New York's AMI, set at the federal level by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is $76,800 per household. According to HDC guidelines a family of four is eligible for affordable housing if its combined household income is less than half, or $38,400, of the AMI.
New York City Department of Planning statistics show that in Brooklyn Community District 27, where the City Point site is located, the median household income is $34,375 - at the upper end of the income limit for affordable housing.
Nonetheless, said FUREE board member Diana Smith, the new apartments are too expensive. "A lot of us are low-income in this area," said Smith. "They talk about being affordable. Who is it going to be affordable for? They should be talking about people who earn $20,000 a year."
An HDC spokesperson named Christina Sanchez acknowledged the developer's request for $400 million in financing from the city has only served to heighten resentment towards the City Point project.
"A lot of people were upset" at the December 8 public hearing, Sanchez said after the meeting. "But we're still in the process, in the beginning stages of determining if City Point will receive the tax-exempt bonds,” said Sanchez, a process that will not be completed for at least six months.
"We're going to stay on top of both the city and the developer," said Moore, "to make sure if they get the money they'll do something good for the community."