Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1113 Tue, 12 Dec 2017 04:30:39 +0000 en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) De Blasio Calls for Albany to 'Make Right' on Program at Center of Rift with Governor http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6098:de-blasio-calls-for-albany-to-make-right-on-program-at-center-of-rift-with-governor http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6098:de-blasio-calls-for-albany-to-make-right-on-program-at-center-of-rift-with-governor cuomo de blasio

Cuomo and de Blasio in 2014, photo via Governor's Office


When Mayor Bill de Blasio exploded in frustration with Governor Andrew Cuomo on June 30 of last year, there were three key issues that set him off. The mayor felt that in the final negotiations of the Albany legislative session that had just ended, Cuomo had not been an ally on rent regulations, mayoral control of city schools, and the 421-a tax break program meant to spur affordable housing development, each of which was extended in a way that the mayor and many other city officials saw as disappointing.

While rent regulations appear settled at least through this year and mayoral control of city schools will be part of negotiations in the coming months, 421-a has been a pressing issue of late, with a stop-gap extension of the program having expired on Friday.

On Monday, de Blasio said he was "deeply disappointed" that the program was not extended further after the two entities charged with negotiating the final details were unable to come to an agreement. In June, the governor and state legislature passed on a proposal from de Blasio and decided that leaders from real estate and building trade unions would have to finalize the wage component of a deal.

Most of the other parameters of the potential extension - which could still happen if negotiations continue and yield an agreement - were designed through talks between de Blasio, the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), and housing-focused legislators and advocates. But, Gov. Cuomo said that their agreement was not beneficial enough to labor, calling it "a giveaway" to developers, and insisted that REBNY and the Building Trades Council figure out the wage structure for development projects receiving the 421-a tax break, which eliminates property taxes on developments that include a requisite number of below-market-rate apartments.

"Just look at the benefits of this plan," de Blasio said Monday to reporters of the plan he had put forward last spring. Speaking in Brooklyn after delivering remarks at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, de Blasio listed those benefits, reforms to the prior 421-a structure including ending the subsidy for condominiums, cutting the city's subsidy for affordable rental housing, and requiring a greater percentage of affordable units in each development in the program. He called it a "plan that we believe fundamentally was better for the taxpayers" and said "there was a real consensus in this city that it was progress."

"I'm deeply disappointed that the way it was pursued has failed, in terms of the Albany process," de Blasio said, in a somewhat subtle critique of the decision by Gov. Cuomo to allow private entities to negotiate state policy, a shift of responsibility that many have called into question. But, de Blasio said, "Albany has a chance to make it right and fix it, because this is crucial to continuing the work we need to do to create affordable housing."

De Blasio said he had spoken with both Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat from the Bronx. Neither Cuomo's nor Heastie's office returned a request for comment for this article. But, Cuomo spoke to reporters about the issue before making an appearance Monday at a Martin Luther King Day event. As reported by Politico New York, calling it a major concern.

The 421-a program is one centerpiece of de Blasio's housing agenda and its goal of creating or preserving 200,000 affordable units over ten years. Indicating he has hope for new life for 421-a or something similar, de Blasio said Monday that the city had enough projects in the pipeline "to continue to produce housing at essentially the same clip" through this year, after announcing recently that the city had "financed and secured" more than 41,000 affordable units over the first two years of his term.

"But," he said, "going forward, we do have to address this issue. And again, Albany has a chance to make real reform, to take a program that was unfair to taxpayers and wasn't producing enough affordable housing and fix it. That's certainly what we're going to fight for."

421-a accounted for over a billion dollars in tax breaks during the 2015 fiscal year, much of which went to developments that had not included affordable units in exchange - a recent ProPublica investigation of 421-a found "The failure of city and state regulators to effectively police the tax break...and hold developers to their word."

As recently as Thursday, Gov. Cuomo had called 421-a, or something like it, "a desperately needed program." Of REBNY and the trade unions, Cuomo said, "they could reach an agreement if they wanted to, there is a compromise to be found...and if they don't reach a compromise then frankly they both would have been disingenuous when they said they desperately needed this program."

"My guess is they reach a compromise," Cuomo added, speaking on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show, "and if they don't, the program will lapse."

On Monday Cuomo acknowledged that his guess was wrong. "There was an agreement that was supposed to be worked out between the labor unions and...REBNY," Cuomo said. "They didn't agree on a wage, which means right now we don't have an affordable housing program that's operating in the City of New York. And that is a major concern for the mayor and myself. And that's been our number one topic of conversation."

The expiration of 421-a was met with mixed reactions. Some affordable housing advocates, like community groups that make up The Alliance for Tenant Power, celebrated the news. "The end of 421a is the best news tenants could receive. It was a wasteful program that incentivized corruption," said campaign manager Delsenia Glover, in a statement. The group wants to see strengthening of rent regulations and use of tax subsidies to help house the lowest-income New Yorkers.

Both City Council Member Jumaane Williams, who chairs the Council's housing committee, and affordable housing advocate Benjamin Dulchin, executive director of Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, said that the expiration of 421-a allows policy-makers to step back and take a fresh look at an affordable housing subsidy program.

"Now, we need all parties to come back to the table," Williams said in a statement, "take a fresh look at our options and create a plan to build housing with meaningful affordability requirements, fair labor standards, livable wages and equally as important, plans to ensure that jobs will go to communities too often ignored and underrepresented."

On Friday, Gary LaBarbera, the president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, announced that no deal had been reached between his group and REBNY. LaBarbera said, in part, "We remain ready to engage with all stakeholders in the weeks and months ahead to achieve our goals of creating needed affordable housing and middle class jobs for New Yorkers."

Without tax incentives, building affordable housing is not financially feasible for real estate developers, according to stakeholders. Without 421-a, or something similar, affordable housing proponents fear that developers will simply focus on building condos, which optimize opportunities for profit.

REBNY President John Banks indicated as much in his reaction to the failure of 421-a negotiations, saying that "Without a program like 421-a, one can't build multi-family rental housing with a significant below-market, or affordable, component on a scale necessary to address the City's needs."

Banks struck a tone similar to LaBarbera, though, adding that REBNY is "committed to working with stakeholders to fashion a program that will produce the affordable housing throughout New York City that is so desperately needed, ensures construction workers are treated fairly and creates job opportunities for City residents."

Frustration with Albany lawmakers over a lack of clarity on the issue is not limited to de Blasio. In an interview with The Real Deal, one developer, David Kramer of Hudson Companies, said, "Our company survived two exhausting, stressful nail biters to start foundations on two separate rental projects by June 15 and Dec. 31, respectively, of this year, and it would be highly appreciated if Albany could provide a regulatory environment that offers some certainty and stability."

During his State of the State address last week, Cuomo outlined a commitment to fund 100,000 units of affordable housing across the state over five years. The details of Cuomo's plan are promised in the coming weeks. Just after Cuomo's speech, de Blasio told reporters it reasons that a good percentage would go to New York City.

On Monday, de Blasio said that "In the coming days, we're certainly going to push hard for action in Albany" on 421-a.

Back in June, de Blasio had pointed to 421-a as a major example of Cuomo not working in the best interest of New York City. "What I believe happened here," de Blasio told NY1 anchor Errol Louis, "is the governor, working with the Senate, in some cases, to inhibit the work of the Assembly – to inhibit the agenda of that New York City put forward. 421-a, I think, is the obvious example. We worked for months to come up with a plan that would really greatly intensify our ability to create affordable housing for New Yorkers."

Citing a "total package" that "would have reached 160,000 people," de Blasio said he and his team "worked with housing advocates" and "the real estate community" to get to a "good policy."

"It should have found a lot of support in Albany," de Blasio said. "Literally, within days of announcing the vision, the governor was trying to shoot it down very overtly and suggesting it was not a viable plan – it was presented too late....clearly it was not presented too late."

"I don't think the governor was sincere when he said it would be a giveaway to developers," de Blasio said, "when we were in fact demanding a lot more of developers."

"He could have embraced it," he said of the governor. "He could have seen it as the reform it was."

In November, de Blasio's commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Vicki Been, said that if 421-a were to expire, "Life will go on. There was life before 421-a, and there will be life if 421-a fails. We will survive and still deliver our 200,000 units."

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@tweetBenMax

Note: this article has been updated with comment from Gov. Cuomo

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De Blasio Calls for Albany to 'Make Right' on Program at Center of Rift with Governor Mon, 18 Jan 2016 21:53:11 +0000
Albany Lawmakers Putter Past Deadlines, Surprising No One http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5776:albany-lawmakers-putter-past-deadlines-surprising-no-one http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5776:albany-lawmakers-putter-past-deadlines-surprising-no-one Cuomo Heastie

Two of the 'three men' (photo: The Governor's Office via flickr)


Albany has a reputation for procrastination. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature seem to meet no sunsetting regulation that impacts millions of people, mandated federal action with millions of dollars at stake, or other serious deadline that is too important for them to skirt. State government loves to push issues right to the edge, pause, and then shove them over the cliff just when everyone is looking.

It is a habit so ingrained in capital culture that long-time observers simply expect it. "When they announced the last day of session was a Wednesday I just assumed the actual end would be Friday," said Blair Horner, of the New York Public Interest Research Group, who has witnessed decades of Albany dysfunction.

With both houses and the governor having failed to prevent the city's rent laws that govern affordable housing for millions of New Yorkers from expiring, they remain in Albany locked in a more-than familiar routine. Leaders meetings are punctuated by declarations to the press of "No deal yet!" or "See you tomorrow!" The governor's office issues press release after press release about funding grants to various projects and there is an occasional deal announced on an important issue while a host of legislative debates over bills bordering on the absurd take place in chambers - as happened Wednesday in the Senate on a bill that would make the wood frog the state amphibian or with a bill naming an official state dog that was on the Senate's active list on Thursday.

Lawmakers expect to continue this routine on Friday and Monday after that, if no deal materializes on rent regulations and a couple of other high profile issues like mayoral control of city schools. Legislators have special incentive to stay and negotiate, not only because of public opinion, but because if they fail to negotiate major policy now, Gov. Cuomo will be able to hammer his preferred policy positions through more easily in the next budget.

In Albany, where passing a state budget on time is seen as a work of wonders - and a late budget is labeled on-time because the clocks in the chamber are stopped during voting - many see the current situation as par for the course and think it may the best the state can hope for, especially given current realities. "In many ways this is a really typical end of session," said Horner. "Everyone is waiting while deals are rolled out slowly, negotiations are covered in a shroud of secrecy, and this is an odd numbered year so they are focused on delivering for the political elite rather than the voters."

Things could be worse given that the legislative hierarchy was upended by US Attorney Preet Bharara and Cuomo's negotiating team consists of second-term rookies. New conference leaders Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican, have yet to storm away from the negotiating table and taken their conferences home. Cuomo hasn't begun making public threats, beyond saying he would keep the Legislature in town for as long as it takes to reach a deal on the rent laws. But history shows that there isn't much anyone can do to force the sides into a deal and as long as discussions are ongoing, there is still hope issues can be resolved.

The Legislature wrapped session fairly neatly over the last 3 years without a big ticket deal - often known as a "big ugly." But in 2011 Cuomo and legislators found themselves in a somewhat similar situation. Rent laws expired while negotiations over hot-button issues like marriage equality were actually resolved. The Legislature stayed in session a few days past the scheduled conclusion, passing simple extenders of the rent laws until they allowed the law to expire for 48 hours. Eventually a deal was struck.

Horner and others say it is when both sides stop talking that people really need to worry, because there is no effective recourse. "At the moment, cooler heads are prevailing and they continue to talk," said Horner. Cuomo could call a special session which allows him to force the Legislature to return to Albany to consider a legislative agenda of his choosing, but there is nothing he can do to make them pass bills. "The governor can call them back but it is largely an ineffective executive tool that is mainly used as a torture device rather than a deal-maker. It is used as a weapon to force them to schlep to Albany," said Horner.

Former Assembly Member and Senior Demos Fellow Richard Brodsky says that special sessions are "just silly," because "the Legislature can just gavel out of special session and into regular session," without even considering the governor's agenda.

Brodsky said it is actually in Cuomo's best interest if end-of-session negotiations fail. He said the governor's considerable budget powers have actually led to this end-of-session stalemate. "Last minute negotiation is a basic tenet of any democracy, from London to Jerusalem," said Brodsky. "What is really going on here is the governor has no incentive to negotiate because he can get whatever he wants in the budget thanks to Silver v. Pataki."

The decision in that case prevents the Legislature from altering Cuomo's budget proposals, allowing the branch to only agree or disagree with each entry. This year the result was the adoption of Cuomo's hyper-controversial education plan, free of legislative tinkering. There was, of course, much that the governor attempted to include in the budget that legislators would not agree to and was thus bumped out completely.

Brodsky says he expects Cuomo and the Legislature to agree to basic extenders so that Cuomo can put more long-term deals on mayoral control and rent regulations in his budget.

Meanwhile, for further head-scratching consider that both houses of the Legislature maintain a technical defense against any gubernatorial special session by staying in regular session even when members aren't actually in Albany to vote on anything. When leadership announces the end of a session week they will unfailingly announce their return date along with the phrase "intervening days being legislative days." The move is designed so that they never technically go out of session and leave themselves open to an official special session called by the governor. Horner says he isn't exactly clear whether the mechanism actually works. If Cuomo were to call the Legislature back it would carry with it the weight of public opinion, regardless of the technicalities.

The Legislature has returned outside of normal session voluntarily in the past to address pressing issues. They've reached deals on tax reform under Gov. Cuomo and on anti-terrorism measures after 9/11 under Gov. George Pataki.

One reason the current situation may not seem so bad to veterans like Horner is that there was a time when having the Legislature in Albany through the summer was basically the norm. Under Pataki and Gov. David Paterson budgets, due by March 1, were routinely months late.

Paterson put his executive power to the test during the 2009 Senate coup where Republicans attempted to seize control of the chamber by aligning with Sens. Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate. Both Democrats and Republicans insisted they controlled the chamber, the stalemate continued for weeks as legal challenges mounted. Paterson issued a special session to address outstanding issues like mayoral control of schools.

Legislators returned to Albany facing the threat of having the State Police force them there but Democrats and Republicans refused to enter the Senate chamber at the same time. Nothing got done.

Paterson later pressed Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to withhold senators' pay until they got to work. DiNapoli initially resisted but in early July 2009 he began withholding payments despite the lack of any clear legality. The situation was eventually resolved when Paterson filled the vacant lieutenant governor position, which stripped the Senate of some of its power.

Horner stresses that the current situation isn't anywhere near the dysfunction of 2009 but that with all the pressure the Legislature faces and tension in the chamber due to Bharara's indictments, things could change for the worse. The situation is already at a point where many policy issues have been swept off the table as almost only the most basic items that have or will soon sunset are being dealt with.

"I really couldn't give odds on whether things get settled," said Horner. "This is a unique session. normally muscle memory is that there is radio silence from the governor and leaders as agreements roll out and I think that is what the expectation is now. But there is a giant question mark over whether Albany has the capacity to deal with all the changes it has been through this year."

Brodsky, however, said he knows how this movie ends. "I've been saying for months we will get extenders and the governor will put what he wants on these issues in his budget in March. I don't fault the governor, why would he negotiate when he doesn't have to?"

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

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Albany Lawmakers Putter Past Deadlines, Surprising No One Thu, 18 Jun 2015 23:54:41 +0000
The Week That Was in New York Politics, June 15-19 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5777:the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-june-15-19 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5777:the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-june-15-19 week in review bus readers

photo: Stanley Kubrick via Museum of the City of New York


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday June 19

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at the groundbreaking for the Cornel Technion campus on Roosevelt Island, praising former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who announced a $100 million donation to the school; via John M. Mantel for the New York Post

Bloomberg de Blasio Cornell Tech

TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK:

1. Rent Regulations Expire...Then Extended: State lawmakers allowed rent regulations to expire this past Monday to the frustration of about two million New York City tenants who live in rent-regulated apartments, and many Democratic state legislators and City Council members. In a statement released on Monday, June 15, Governor Cuomo warned that “landlords should under no circumstances believe that their responsibility under the current rent stabilization program has expired.” With negotiations at an impasse, Cuomo and legislative leaders agreed on Thursday to sign a short extension of the regulations, applying retroactively and through Tuesday, June 23. Negotiations continue.

2. Some Important Albany Business Done: ‘Affirmative Consent’ on College Campuses, Nail Salon Regulations, and Port Authority Reform: No deals yet on rent regulations, 421-a, mayoral control of schools, the charter school cap, ‘raise the age,’ or a whole host of other high-profile issues, but, a few key items were dealth with this week. Legislators approved the campus sexual assault bill redefining consent on Tuesday, one of Gov. Cuomo’s top priorities. A bill allowing pregnant women to enroll in the New York State Health Exchange at any time was passed. A nail salon bill, which allows regulation of the industry that recently came under heightened scrutiny thanks to a New York Times series, was passed. And, Thursday evening a Port Authority reform bill passed, with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie saying the bill is important reform ”by increasing transparency, improving regulation and instituting more independent oversight.” The bill will still need approval from New Jersey’s state legislators.

3. NYC Office of Civil Justice Created: The bill creating an Office of Civil Justice and a Coordinator of Civil Justice was unanimously passed in committee in the last week of May before being voted on by full City Council, and then signed into law by Mayor de Blasio this past Tuesday. Civil court, unlike criminal court, does not have “the right to counsel” even though cases about eviction, child custody, and deportation are often life-changing. The new office will be geared toward consolidating many of the different efforts to bring legal aid and representation to low-income New Yorkers.

4. First Arrest By New Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force: On Wednesday, Attorney General Schneiderman, Mayor de Blasio and the New York State Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner James Rubin announced that the city/state Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force had arrested and indicted landlord Daniel Melamed. It was alleged that Melamed jeopardized the health and safety of his tenants, including a six-year-old child, and forced at least one rent regulation tenant to move out. In the press release on Wednesday Attorney General Schneiderman warned that the “charges send a strong message to landlords across New York City: if you harass, intimidate, or jeopardize the health and safety of your tenants, we will come after you with the full force of the law.”

5. Groundbreaking At Cornell Tech: Cornell and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology won the 2011 competition to build an applied sciences graduate school to “foster high-tech entrepreneurship in the city” and its groundbreaking ceremony just took place this past Tuesday at the Roosevelt Island site. The first stage of construction won’t be finished until 2017 but Mayor de Blasio noted at the ceremony that over the next 30 years this project is projected to create more than 48,000 jobs and bring $33 billion in economic impact. This past Monday, former Mayor Bloomberg also announced a donation of $100 million to the project. The groundbreaking as a rare joint appearance by the current mayor and his predeccessor. 

THIS WEEK'S NUMBERS:

  • 13 days since Richard Matt and David Sweat escaped from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York on June 6 (as of Friday, June 19, that is).
  • 42 percent of more than 1,400 criminal cases with defendants at Rikers for more than a year have been decided by New York City Courts over the past two months. This is part of “Justice Reboot,” an attempt to reduce the backlog of pending cases.
  • $100 million being donated by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg is to Cornell Technion to build a school building on Roosevelt Island. The campus will include “The Bloomberg Center,” and city officials are hopeful that it will position New York City as a major tech center. The school is part of an initiative Bloomberg launched for a new graduate school of applied sciences in the city.

THE GLORY AND THE GOAT:

  • It was a good week for Dante de Blasio, as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s son graduates Friday from Brooklyn Technical High School with plans to attend Yale University in the fall. Mayor de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray both set to attend and deliver remarks at the ceremony at Barclays Center.
  • It was bad week for Governor Andrew Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, both Democrats, neither of whom appears able to convince Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan to extend and stregthen rent regulations meant to keep about a million apartment units affordable for New York City residents. Many Democrats are questioning Cuomo's leadership and Heastie has not proven his mettle in his first post-budget legislative negotiations, with rent laws expiring on Monday night. Some are applauding Heastie for holding his ground, though, both on rent laws and in not giving in to the education investment tax credit favored by Cuomo and Senate Republicans.

THE FLASH:

  • One year ago, June 19, 2014, Governor Cuomo and state legislative leaders announced an agreement to establish a medical marijuana program, known as the Compassionate Care Act, for New York State. The program rollout continues while there is much criticism of the rules as being too tight.
  • Exactly 150 years ago, June 19,1865, Major General Gordon Granger landed in Texas with the news that the Civil War had ended and that the enslaved were to be set free. The day would become known as Juneteenth and the pronouncement came two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, which had made very little impact in Texas.

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK:

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:

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NOTE TO READERS: we hope you enjoy this new Gotham Gazette weekly feature - please share it if you do; on Twitter, use our handle @GothamGazette.

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

Watch Sunday evening for our latest Week Ahead in New York Politics, which gives you a preview of key issues and events to be aware of for the week about to start. In the meantime, catch up on the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette here. And have a great weekend!

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by Erika Wang and Ben Max

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The Week That Was in New York Politics, June 15-19 Fri, 19 Jun 2015 14:28:53 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, June 8 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5757:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-june-8 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5757:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-june-8 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

EYES ON ALBANY: It's crunch time in Albany - and one big sign of how important a week it is: the state Legislature is in session FOUR days this week, as opposed to the three that has most often been the case in the post-budget legislative session that began in early April and is due to end on June 17 (a week from Wednesday). There are seven days of session left on the calendar between this week and next. Are we headed for a "big ugly" end of session deal on a bunch of policies? Or, might it just be a few agreements on extensions of key items - like mayoral control of New York City schools, rent regulations, and the 421-a real estate development tax abatement - with minimal or no tweaks?

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, June 8 Fri, 05 Jun 2015 14:46:04 +0000