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Know Your Rights
Source: Capital New York
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Interest groups push as 421-a expiration nears

With just days until the controversial 421-a tax breaks expire, and no clear signs of an agreement in Albany, advocates on both sides of the issue are digging in.

A coalition that includes the powerful Real Estate Board of New York is launching new advertising spots that will air on television and radio stations in New York City and Albany over the next week. The group, which backs a reform package developed by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, sites statistics about the competition for affordable housing in New York.

“When 142 affordable apartments opened in Queens, 32,000 people applied,” the female narrator says in the television spot, in which flashy graphics show lists of application numbers ticking by on the sides of buildings. “In Brooklyn, it was nearly 80,000, for just 38.”

The ad, promoted by the group Affordable Housing and Local Jobs Now Coalition, also shows images of construction workers and families.

“Every one knows we need more affordable housing in New York City. But unless we reform state housing laws, we’ll never be able to build it,” the narrator says. So tell Albany to stop ignoring the housing crises and pass a new 421-a plan to—finally—build more apartments New Yorkers can afford.”

The coalition also includes the New York State Association for Affordable Housing, which represents affordable housing developers; the Community Preservation Corporation, a non-profit lender; and the NAACP New York State Conference. The ads are funded by Putting New Yorkers to Work Inc., a lobbying group formed by REBNY, which represents the city’s biggest developers.

The new campaign comes as tenant advocacy groups and others call for an end to 421-a, which offers developers abatements on property taxes and requires, in certain instances, that they also build affordable housing. The program cost about $1.1 billion last year in forgone tax revenue.

De Blasio, despite saying 421-a is a key part of his ambitious housing plan, said last Sunday that the program should be ended it if it can’t be “mended.” His plan would mandate inclusion of affordable housing and extend the abatement period by a decade.

The mayor’s comments have given new enthusiasm to those who oppose any reform package. In a statement that was being circulated to lawmakers at the Capitol on Tuesday, numerous community groups called for the program to be eliminated regardless of what changes are being considered. The groups would prefer a more direct subsidy to create affordable housing.

“The current 421-a program is a sweetheart deal for wealthy developers,” the statement says. “Currently, it provides over a billion dollars in taxpayer funded subsidies with very little public benefit in return.”

But even as it says the program should be eliminated, the statement suggests a change backed by construction unions—that the tax break require that workers be paid a prevailing wage. That measure is supported by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. Governor Andrew Cuomo has said it should be part of the discussion. And State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has said it will be part of negotiations in the upper chamber.

“As the 421-a expiration deadline approaches on June 15, we need to imagine a future where tax breaks and public subsidies create middle class wages for all workers, increase affordable housing with deep levels of affordability, and a stronger economy for all,” the tenant advocates said in their statement. “Giving developers tax breaks to build luxury housing while using contractors who have a proven track record of wage theft isn’t good public policy; in fact, it leads to the intense corruption we have seen in Albany this year.”

The groups that signed the statement include: ALIGN, Community Action for Safe Apartments, Community Service Society, Community Voices Heard, Crown Heights, Tenant Union, Faith in New York, The Legal Aid Society, Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change, Real Affordability for All, Tenants and Neighbors and VOCAL-NY.

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