By Barry Shapiro
Among rising residential and commercial rents, the demise of small businesses and dramatic increases in homelessness due to rising rents, does anyone recognize the behavior of NYC Democratic politicians as truly representing the values of the Democratic Party we have known for close to 70 years?
Dysfunction characterizes the party. Thanks to dysfunction in Albany, due to the defections of the Independent Democratic Conference and Senator Simcha Felder, Democrats remain the Senate minority and can offer little challenge to the Urstadt Law, a GOP-sponsored law that took most control of rent stabilization away from the City Council in 1971 and posited it with the state.
Overly landlord-friendly actions characterize the Democrats since 2000. Bloomberg was a Democrat who ran as a Republican and in many ways acted like a Republican. We saw some of the highest RGB increases under him even during the financial meltdown; his attitude toward real estate in Manhattan was close to laissez faire. The Trump Soho fiasco occurred under him, a saga that still hasn’t ended. And in 2002, under “Democratic” Speaker Pete Vallone, the vacancy allowance increase rule was passed by the City Council, which allows landlords to raise rent stabilized rents by 18 and 20 percent each time a unit is vacated. Given the strategy of renting to students we’ve seen applied in ST/PCV, this poorly-framed law gave landlords an invaluable tool for moving stabilized rents higher. After it passed the council, this law then passed over to Albany control.
Now seemingly stymied legislatively and politically, NYC Democrats appear to have given over to their hamstrings entirely. Instead of fighting for effective governmental controls, caps and new robust government-sponsored middle class programs as previous Democrats would have, today’s Democrats have embraced developer-friendly programs as a way of gaining crumbs for middle-class housing.
The 421 programs, created to help real estate development during hard times, have been embraced as a way of gaining 20 percent “affordable” housing while giving away billions in tax breaks in order to mitigate risk for luxury development and luxury purchasing. A form of trickle-down economics with respect to housing.
As if to compensate for the loss of tax revenue, today’s Democrats embrace even more real estate developer-friendly programs.
Helping to create even greater developer prosperity within an already prosperous market, City Planning is requesting new zoning in East Midtown, East Harlem, Inwood and undoubtedly elsewhere. The desire is to build skinnier and higher because luxury buyers (residential and commercial) prefer the view. And indeed these skinny, disproportionately high buildings seem to be going up across the island.
Profit from luxury building combined with government tax incentive programs fanning the flames have created a “here & now opportunity” atmosphere that’s contributed to massive building efforts, rising prices and rising rents.
Rather than addressing party dysfunction and trying to change the relationship between city and state legislatures, rather than face these problems, it’s as if Democrats have chosen to act oblivious to them. Instead they’ve drunk “market-driven” Kool-aid in order to find solutions, and now they can’t get enough of it. With respect to real estate, I don’t expect any different behavior from the GOP. But for Democrats there should be a big difference between government stepping in to save vital businesses when needed as opposed to helping already healthy businesses profit even more.
The true Democrats I recall would not recognize many of NYC’s Democrats today. In the past when we had circumstances much like today’s, when rents were going up but salaries were not keeping pace, that’s when Democrats stepped up to put in caps, controls and programs to help working folks. Not so now.
The net result has been to create an environment of even more rapacious grabbing… as much if not more than ever before. In this era of luxury housing, building more, charging more residentially, commercially no matter what the harm… these seem to be the order of the day. Time and again in a three-way negotiation the winners seem to be developers and city coffers, quality of life for regular citizens the loser.
If this keeps up, more and more of the gains to city coffers will have to go toward aiding homeless families. Almost as if the city and state are complicit, combining to create the wound, then stepping up to apply a band-aid.
It’s a confused situation the Democrats have created. But I think there’s one guiding principle that could be applied. There’s no need to offer government programs to help businesses that are already essentially healthy, that simply crave less risk and want more money.
Barry Shapiro is a Democrat candidate for City Council in District 4 and a resident of Peter Cooper Village.