The luxury condo developer who will convert a former AIDS hospice on the Lower East Side to luxury condos was tapped to head a major, city-backed residential development project in Brooklyn last year — and community activists want them out.
Just a month after the deed restrictions requiring that Rivington House be used for nonprofit healthcare services were lifted, the city’s Economic Development Corporation tapped the Slate Property Group, along with co-developer BFC Partners, to redesign the Bedford-Union Armory in Crown Heights. The project will transform the 500,000-plus-square-foot space into a joint residential and recreation center that will include market-rate and affordable housing units, as well as a recreation center funded in part by New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony.
Vocal anti-gentrification advocacy group New York Communities for Change (NYCC) wrote in an August 5 report that the city’s decision to trust Slate with the redevelopment was “misguided at best.” The project was conceived with community input and the support of Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo and State Assemblyman Walter Mosley.
“Slate Property Group is a clear bad actor, whose unscrupulous behavior in pursuit of profit makes them outrageously unqualified to develop affordable housing on public land,” read the report.
Village Care sold Rivington House to Allure, a for-profit healthcare company, for $28 million in February of 2015. Recent reports from the Department of Investigation and the city comptroller’s office say Allure worked aggressively to exploit the city’s disjointed handling of deed removals, making empty promises to maintain the property’s healthcare services while at the same time courting condo developers for a sale that would earn them major profits. The community, strapped for low-income housing and on the verge of losing its only hospital, replied in outrage. City officials have repeatedly shirked responsibility for the sale, saying Allure duped them.
A Slate representative told workers at the time not to discuss the planned sale until after the deed restrictions had been successfully lifted, lest they tip off the city and the union that represented the nursing home’s workers. “Once he has it removed we can do whatever we want,” the DOI report said. Allure eventually paid the city $16 million to lift two deed restrictions and flipped the property to Slate for $116 million. City, state, and federal investigations opened up. The DOI found the city to have allowed the sale with a “complete lack of accountability.” Despite Mayor Bill de Blasio’s claims that his administration had no clue that Allure might abandon the nursing home and build condos, the DOI and City Comptroller Scott Stringer found extensive evidence that senior City Hall officials knew that was the likely outcome. De Blasio has downplayed the controversy, admitting that the sale was a mistake but likening the backlash, sarcastically, to Watergate.
He pledged to invest $16 million in the Lower East Side, the amount the city earned from the removal of the deed restrictions, but activists say much more is needed to mitigate the loss. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer says Rivington House is valued at about $200 million.
Among NYCC’s chief concerns for the redesign of the Bedford Union Armory (the building is over a century old and currently vacant) is a lack of affordable housing units. Of the new building’s 330 apartments, half will be deemed affordable housing, but just 66 units will be available to residents whose income falls below the area’s median income, which in 2015 was $86,300 for a family of four. The citywide AMI is calculated using the populations of New York City, plus nearby, wealthier Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam counties, a methodology some say skews the numbers. Median income across the five boroughs alone is much lower, about $50,711, according to census data. The project has yet to receive approval through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, run by the Department of City Planning and the City Planning Commission.
The report also mentions a property at 176 Woodward Avenue in Ridgewood, Queens, purchased by Slate in 2012. The group was given permission by the city to rezone the building, which is in a manufacturing area, only after agreeing to make half the units affordable housing, and 20 percent of those permanently so. Before construction on the project broke ground, Slate sold the property to private equity companies not bound by the terms of the agreement laid out by the city, according to the report. Forty-five units will be designated for affordable housing.
Slate did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
New York Communities for Change, along with the Crown Heights Tenants Union and the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, Crown Heights Community Council, and unions DC 9 and Local 79, will stage a protest against the hiring of Slate to manage the redesign this Wednesday in front of the armory.
Read the NYCC report here.