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March 17, 2011
Ratner mulls prefab housing tower alongside Nets arena
The good news: Facing a May 2013 deadline to break ground or else face million of dollars in penalties, Forest City Ratner may finally be building one of the promised apartment buildings that were the main hook for getting approval for its Brooklyn Nets arena project.
The bad news: The developer is considering building a prefabricated 34-story tower, which would be the world's largest, in order to cut costs.
Why is that bad news? Well, the other hook for the project was that it would create jobs, and as the New York Times' Charles Bagli notes, "a carpenter earns $85 an hour in wages and benefits on-site, but only $35 an hour in a factory." (Not to mention that a factory can be built anywhere, which pretty much obviates the job benefits to New York City of the project.) "This is something that could be of great consequence to the building trades," building trades union president Gary La Barbera told Bagli. "We have never been supportive of prefab buildings, for obvious reasons."
Bagli also notes that since no one has ever built a prefab building this tall, no one is sure whether it would hold up to wind shear and seismic forces. Plus, as he doesn't note, a building made of stacked-and-bolted-together boxes — think a pile of shipping containers with windows in them — sounds hideously ugly. But then, we know that Ratner has a tolerance for ugly.
I don't think this is a bad thing. Prefabricated housing has the potential to dramatically lower costs, making housing affordable for far more people. America needs to find new ways to make housing affordable, and if Ratner can do it, good for him.
America does need new ways to make housing affordable. HOUSING. Not human storage like this...
I've been in prefab houses, and some of them are nice. They are better than what poor people have now. Prefab might seem like "human storage" compared to upper class housing. But compared to lower class housing, it's a step up.
Much of "what poor people have now" was built in the 1950s and 1960s on the premise that anything cheap and new would be better than what people had before.
Anyway, Ratner's buildings are intended as luxury housing, not affordable housing. Nobody living in the projects now is going to be able to come close to affording even the subsidized units there.
The issue here is Ratner's cavalcade of lies and deceit to get this project built. Ratner announced an unattainably high number of union construction jobs, newly created jobs, and affordable housing. They weren't sustainable, he knew it, and it bought him support from politicians and community leaders who should have known better.
The construction unions -- at least their leaders -- bought Ratner's myths. And now, surprise, he's leaving them behind now that the project is moving forward. A movement, by the way, as lurching and flimsy as a 34-story modular building.
And Dave, all that building modularly does is save Ratner lots of money. It doesn't make the units any cheaper to live in.
Neil is right. Very few bottom-rung low-income Brooklynites will get an apartment in the Atlantic Yards: A) much of that stock might never be built; and B) Ratner includes apartments priced over $3,000 a month as part of his "affordable" scheme.
Modular has its places. The corner of Flatbush and Atlantic isn't one of them, for a truckload of reasons.
I live near this project... Watchin it grow is amazing. But I fear that us low income families will lose what little we have. There are at least 6 housing projects within a mile of this... What happens to these families???
Do the projects no longer be affordable? Can we afford or even qualify to be a tenant? And where do we start to try to get occupancy???