Opinion: The difference maker

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

It has often be said that elections have consequences. That statement was never truer than last week in Albany.

 You may recall that Brian Kavanagh, after serving for ten years in the State Assembly, in a district that I represented for almost three decades, ran for an open State Senate seat in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn two years ago. He was elected. But of even greater significance, the State Senate became a Democratic Party majority this year after the 2018 November elections. Senator Kavanagh became chairman of the Senate Housing Committee. That was important because all the New York City tenant protections laws would lapse this year and would need to be debated once again.

 For over half a century the State Senate majority was in the hands of the Republican Party almost without interruption and mostly represented by upstate and suburban legislators. For all those years the Senate was commonly referred to as the place where progressive tenant protection and rent regulation reforms went to die. I can personally attest to that.

During my years in the State Assembly, I introduced dozens of affordable housing bills designed to protect tenants from unfair and excessive rent increases and other protections as well. They routinely passed in the Assembly but rarely if ever were even allowed to be voted upon in the State Senate. Did that fact have anything to do with the other fact, which was that Republican senators received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from the real estate industry? Well, nobody can say for certain, but neither do I believe in coincidences like that. My counterpart in the State Senate, Roy Goodman, was frequently rebuffed by his own leadership in trying to advance these bills. In those days, Roy was only one of a couple of other Republican senators who represented large communities of tenants in New York State. So try as he did, he was stymied at every turn.

With the start of the 2019 legislative session in Albany and the newly-minted chairman of the Senate Housing Committee, people wondered whether this year would be different. Senator Kavanagh did not disappoint. His committee held hearings across the state to solicit public input on critical housing issues. Legislation was introduced. The results have been historic.

 Last week both the Assembly and the Senate passed long sought after reforms which will stem the tide of vacancy decontrol, keep rents from rising faster than is reasonable, and importantly reform the Major Capital Improvement (MCI) law where tenants have continued to pay landlords for needed renovation work long after the project was paid for through MCI-related rent increases. That will now end. The new laws will also be permanent which is very significant. Since 1974 the tenant protection laws would expire about every six years. That allowed an unfriendly State Senate and their allies in the real estate industry to extract ever more tenant weakening concessions as the price for them to agree to renew the most basic protections like guaranteed lease renewals etc. In other circumstances that might be called blackmail.

 But that all changed last week. Big real estate groups and developers, accustomed to the Senate being their backstop, screamed bloody murder. But the tables had turned in the Senate. Elections have consequences and Senator Brian Kavanagh, along with his majority party colleagues in the State Senate, was the difference maker.

3 thoughts on “Opinion: The difference maker

  1. Senator Kavanagh used to be my Assembly member, and I’ve met him several times in that capacity for various projects and causes I was involved with.
    Now I am part of a consortium doing something even larger: a development project that won’t displace any residents at all, will provide 2,300 PERMANENTLY affordable units out of 7,630 total, in his district, a new school for 900 students FREE, 300,000sf of new public space, flood mitigation, new bi-borough transportation and much much more.
    Yet, his office was neutral and did not formally endorse it.
    More info and a video here: http://bit.ly/Riverarch
    But one has to ask: is there ANY development project today’s progressives will accept? It isn’t progressive if it’s regressive. That’s actually conservative and not meeting anyone’s needs.
    We stand ready to do the full presentation in an hour for any relevant party, and have done so for over a dozen city, state and federal entities.
    But someone has to make a small commitment for their district, the city and the People.
    I am still waiting for such leadership.

  2. “2,300 PERMANENTLY affordable units out of 7,630 ”

    Typical REBNY spin/talking point. In this case 30% vs the usual 20%. The current NYC BdB “affordable housing” $ amount is a joke.

    I saw your vid. Another monstrous sun sucking horror show totally out of place in the NYC skyline. I bet you’re a big fan of the 57th Street oligarch towers and the Extell oligarch towers by the Manhattan Bridge. Even though you have BdB in your pocket, we, the working and middle class of this city, are on to your game. Buh bye.

    • Well, the average affordable 2BR would be $1,335/month and, at 1,602sf, a good bit larger then normal – necessary because of the deep interior space of a 250′ wide building (each leg). That’s 38.1% of CD3’s Area Median Income: $3,501/month, a bit higher than the 30% threshold, but then again, CD3 is one of the most rent-challenged CDs in the city.

      None of us are members of REBNY, and the 30% is, as you noted, 1/3 higher than the typical 20% set aside for affordability (it’s actually 30.14%, so we could round off the # of affordable units to an even 2,300).

      BdB is hardly in our pocket though he and his senior advisors are aware of the project. We just came from a meeting with the Brooklyn Dept. of City Planning today and we have some ways to go to get their approval too.

      However, we do believe this is good for the city, and also good for us. My Co-developer has 8 Mental Health and Rehab clinics in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and there would be one in the RiverArch too, along with the FREE school.

      The shadows mostly fall on the river due to the bend in the river at that point, and the highest point is directly over the middle of the river anyway. The building is entirely over water from the 69th floor.

      What’s not to like?

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