Back in November, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he'd brokered a handshake deal between real estate interests and construction unions, in order to revive a controversial developer incentive with affordable housing provisions. Branded as the "Affordable New York Housing Program," the plan increases construction wages and extends tax breaks in certain parts of the city, while requiring between 25 and 30 percent of apartments in new developments be rented below market rate.
The plan passed as part of the 2018 fiscal year budget this weekend, and will be effective until 2022.
Developers and some local and state politicians, including Mayor de Blasio, have argued that incentivizing developers is the only way to ensure enough affordable housing to meet New York City's demand. Affordable New York will create "substantially more affordable rental housing that is critical to New York City's growth and future," John Banks, president of the developer and landlord lobbying group Real Estate Board of New York, stated this week.
Tenants and their advocates, meanwhile, argue that developer incentives accelerate gentrification. Affordability requirements are set as a percentage of the median income across the entire metropolitan area, which is significantly higher than the median income in many of New York City neighborhoods. "The state legislature approved a giveaway to billionaires in exchange for almost nothing that will be provided to the communities they will build in and the people they will displace," said Delsenia Glover, campaign manager for the Alliance for Tenant Power.
The shelf life of Affordable New York is of particular concern to critics, since the bill will sunset three years after New York City's rent laws do. The latter, tenants say, are their most powerful weapon against gentrification. New York City currently has close to 1 million rent regulated apartments, housing 2.5 million low-income New Yorkers. However, loopholes in the rent laws cause tens of thousands of apartments to lose their stabilization status each year.
In 2015, 421a and the rent laws sunset simultaneously, leaving open the possibility that pro-tenant and pro-development legislators could horse-trade. Thousands of tenants marched over the Brooklyn Bridge, denouncing 421a and calling for stronger protections against deregulation. (The final budget that year, it's worth noting, left tenants dissatisfied.)
"They were on the same budget clock," recalled Cea Weaver, research and policy director for New York Communities For Change, a coalition of housing advocates for low-income New Yorkers. "The benefit was that tenants could go into the most important fight of their lives with an added benefit that something Republicans want [the tax incentive] needs to be debated at the same time."
Weaver also lamented this logic, describing it as pessimistic. "In the world of Albany people of color are being forced to horse trade each other's issues," she said, using this spring's negotiations as an example. In recent weeks, "[The Senate was] demanding something that would harm low income people of color in exchange for something that will help them. It's so hard to get ahead."
As recently as last Wednesday, Governor Cuomo told reporters that two issues were still unresolved: Raise the Age, to protect 16 and 17 year olds from being tried as adults, and Affordable New York.
"If you are a Republican conservative, you see it one way. If you're a Democratic Liberal, you see it a different way," Cuomo said, referring to Raise the Age. "These are critical issues. And we've gotten very good at resolving, closing, and moving on."
Speaking on the Senate floor this weekend, Manhattan Senator Brad Holyman (D) bemoaned the "big ugly" budget approach.
"There's nothing funny about the fact that we're voting on issues as disparate as raising the age, real estate tax breaks, and ending the possibility of regulations on taxable cigarettes [all together]," he said. "These are all stand alone issues that deserve our attention one by one. We shouldn't be forced to vote on omnibus legislation."
Advocates for the homeless were pleased with one aspect of Affordable New York: the plan allocates funding for 6,000 units of supportive housing, two years after it was first promised.
"You shouldn't have to tie the needs of homeless people to the needs of luxury housing developers, but we are happy, and we are celebrating outside of the Governor's Office tomorrow morning," said Coalition for the Homeless policy director Shelly Nortz.