There are so many issues and basic questions associated with the stalled POKO Phase I project that residents should ask our Mayor and Common Council about claims that this is the ‘best negotiated’ offer they can do with Citibank and the JHM Group. It’s hard to figure out where to begin, but I’ll try:
- With the cost of revitalizing the affordable housing project valued at $80 million, why is it costing about $800k per unit to rebuild POKO I, nearly double the median price of a four bedroom family home in Norwalk? What’s affordable about that?
- Why has the city spent roughly $700,000 of taxpayer money suing Jason Milligan for ‘irreparable harm’ or for saying the Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) couldn’t be modified, when clearly the city is now taking steps to modify it, in roughly the same time frame they’ve been fighting in court on the taxpayer’s dime?
- The mayor indicated his concern that ‘our kids cannot afford to live here’ — why not start with their parents? Existing homeowners and taxpaying residents are struggling to stay in Norwalk – primarily due to property taxes.
- Will tax revenues generated from this project cover Board of Education expenses associated with additional students? With 12 three-bedroom family units and 68 two-bedroom units, it’s unlikely there will be any children in the 21 one-bedroom units. However, to assume there won’t be ANY children in this building is unrealistic. The average cost to educate a student in Norwalk is $17,000 – more, if they have additional social needs often associated with lower income levels.
- The new agreement caps the property taxes at 7.5% of estimated gross income for 15 years. According to the associated Schedule E portion of the deal– the gross rent is estimated to be $194,264 per month or $2,331,168 per year. At 7.5% that equates to an annual property tax bill of about $174,000. With 101 units and 235 bedrooms, that tax bill only covers 10 kids! Does anyone think it unrealistic that student numbers could be four or five times higher, given the majority of units will be two and three bedrooms?
- Commercial real estate experts indicate if this were a market rate development costing $80 million, it would generate around $1.5 million annually in taxes. The difference in taxes of $1.5 million versus roughly $175,000 is $1.325 million. Imagine what Norwalk could do with that revenue?
- Even the historical preservation folks have issues with this development. Successful urban renewals use a scalpel not a sledge hammer to revitalize areas. Don’t we need an aesthetically pleasant and attractive urban environment in the historic Wall Street district to attract young professionals and companies to Norwalk? Nobody wants ugly.
- Last, as a casualty of this stalled project, the beloved Garden Cinema is being torn down, invoking Joni Mitchell’s lyrics, “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
Anyone believing that the Citi Community Capital division of Citibank is in the affordable housing business for the community, probably thinks there’s a bridge in Brooklyn for sale. All banks and their divisions are in business to make money, and there’s money to be made off of selling low income tax credits bundled and sold to rich investors or corporations needing tax credits to offset revenue or other capital gains. Citibank could care less about Norwalk or any downstream city services or infrastructure costs that local taxpayers will have to pay for once the building goes up.
The Mayor needs to stand up for the residents and taxpayers of Norwalk and 1) force Citibank to sell the property, 2) make them take the financial hit, 3) tear the building down and start again. That’s what I would do. I fear this deal was cooked up by City Hall’s expensive legal counsel and outside lawyers, paid of course, by local taxpayers.
I am all for healthy growth and development that benefits the city and helps our city coffers. However, having such a large development of 101 units, below market price, in the center of our city will certainly define the area for decades to come, encouraging lower standards of investment going forward. Doesn’t anybody at City Hall understand math – or do they just not care?
The writer is an unaffiliated candidate for Mayor.