The real estate lobby will press its agenda in Albany today, calling for the renewal of a major development subsidy program, warning lawmakers not to strengthen rent-control laws and arguing for the renewal of an initiative meant tot spur cleanup of contaminant sites.
The Real Estate Board of New York will be joined by its affordable housing counterpart, the state’s Association for Affordable Housing, for the mini-lobby day. The group will also press for a renewal of that development subsidy, the controversial 421-a program, but will also call on legislators and the Cuomo administration to direct bank settlement proceeds toward housing for the poor and homeless.
REBNY president Stephen Spinola said he has a meeting with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s staff, but would not disclose who is slated to be there. Spinola, the group’s long-time executive, said he will be joined by senior vice president James Whelan and the board’s lobbyist, Sam NeJame of Wilson Elser.
“The agenda is pretty clear,” Spinola said in an interview. “We need an affordable housing program, which means an extension of 421-a in some form. There’s going to be extension of rent regulations—we need to start talking about that. We need to do what we didn’t last year, and that’s extend the brownfields program.”
The 421-a program, which expires in June and has quickly become a favorite target of tenants groups, provides a large tax abatement to developers who meet certain criteria. Within an exclusion zone that covers all of Manhattan and some of the outer boroughs, recipients are required to include at least 20 percent affordable housing.
But that has not stopped some liberal groups from calling it a sort of welfare for the rich, and saying the program has outlived its usefulness. They claim it is outdated and meant for a time when the city was in desperate need of development of any kind.
Spinola said some form of the program will be necessary as Mayor Bill de Blasio embarks on his ambitious initiative to build 80,000 affordable housing units within a decade. He noted multi-family housing owners pay considerably more in taxes than single-family homeowners, that labor costs are higher here than in other parts of the country and that the price of land in New York City is skyrocketing at a rapid rate.
“When you have all of those costs, you have to have a program that will incentivize people to buy that land, make the construction project work and be able to pay taxes,” Spinola said.
While de Blasio, a liberal Democrat, wants the program renewed, his fellow progressives in the state Assembly are likely to use 421-a as a bargaining chip in their fight to strengthen rent reform. Spinola said he has no doubts that rent reform will be renewed—and thinks it should be—but hopes to press his case for pro-owner changes and, ultimately, a 50-year phasing out.
The Association for Affordable Housing, which represents the developers of affordable housing, will also press the case for 421-a and say it is key to de Blasio’s plan. They, too, will say the state needs to put in pace a strong Brownfield Cleanup Program—which provides tax credits for developing polluted sites.
Their main priority, however, is directing nearly $1 billion in proceeds from the state’s bank settlements toward housing initiatives, said Jolie Milstein, president of the New York State Association for Affordable Housing.
She supports Cuomo’s proposal to put $500 million toward low- and moderate-income housing construction and rehabilitation. The group wants $150 million to go toward “hard-to-reach moderate and middle income households. Beyond that, Milstein said the remainder of mortgage settlement money should go toward helping the homeless, including through a New York/New York IV program that would spend $183 million to fund 5,000 new supportive housing units across the state.