Fair housing advocates condemn welfare for developers
Fair housing advocates demonstrate to show their disapproval of a proposal to give developers more tax breaks. | Cameron Orr/PW

NEW YORK – Ava Farkas, executive director of Metropolitan Council on Housing, dismissed the idea Thursday that a proposed citywide measure would help build affordable housing, calling it an “outdated tax break for billionaire developers like landlord-in-chief Donald Trump.”

Farkas and others spoke at a press conference organized by Real Rent Reform (R3) and the Alliance for Tenant Power (ATP). The Flatbush Tenant Coalition (FTC), Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA), Make the Road New York, and New York Communities for Change (NYCC) were present as part of the coalition along with Councilmember Jumaane D. Williams, Senator Liz Krueger, and Assemblymembers Jeffrey Dinowitz, Victor Pichardo, and Linda Rosenthal.

The gathering met on the steps of City Hall in lower Manhattan at 2pm December 1st, calling on Governor Cuomo to abandon his announced plan to revive the measure, known as 421-a.

In 2015, 421-a gave real estate developers $1.4 billion in tax breaks, but organizers say Trump has already demonstrated to the world that developers can be counted on to rip people off. Collectively, after receiving over a billion public dollars for housing construction, the developers who benefited from 421-a produced only $100 million in affordable units. This is a pittance by New York City real estate standards.

Now Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to increase that tax break to $2.4 billion. Advocates say such wasteful giveaways are especially foolish at a time when Trump has threatened to take away federal funding from sanctuary cities like New York as part of his broader plan to radically displace and dislocate immigrant families and communities.

Pichardo remarked, “It is unfortunate that the Governor wants to emphasize 421-a but not emphasize the need to pass the Dream Act, especially when we have a president-elect who is hostile to communities of color.”

“I’ve watched how many bad versions of 421-a come and go, get passed and when reporters go and look, they report [the housing] never was built,” Krueger said. “$2.4 billion won’t be collected from the city of New York in taxes. That means everyone else will have to pay.”

Krueger, who represents the East Side of Manhattan, noted the absurdity of subsidizing new construction in districts like her own. “It’s an overheated real estate market. Why would we want to continue to overheat and subsidize the most overheated sections of Manhattan and Brooklyn? It makes no sense. Don’t do anything, leave the city with $2.4 billion, and make them spend it on guaranteed, really affordable housing in the communities that need it, rather than on another one of these scams.”

Farkas pointed to One57, a new condominium tower overlooking Central Park, as the poster child for this scam. “Although it took $65.6 million from the city’s taxpayers, units range between $7 million to $115 million. If One57 had not received this tax break, the city could have built 367 affordable units in the Bronx.”

“Our Democratic governor should be protecting New Yorkers from Trump’s policies and agenda, not pushing a tax break that would benefit wealthy real estate moguls and blow a hole in the city budget,” she added.

“I’m retired and on fixed income,” said senior citizen and tenant Norma (who declined to give her last name). “I struggle to pay my rent, but the governor and the New York State legislature continuously ignore the need to strengthen the rent regulations.”

Williams had a direct message to those elected to represent the people at the state level: “We are asking all the legislators that came out in droves to show how progressive they were after the election, ‘Vote no on this plan if it comes before you.’”

“We all know that the underlying problem in this country is the 1% and the 99%,” said Rosenthal. “If we use as our guiding philosophy that we don’t want to exacerbate that, all the steps the government makes should be more beneficial to the 99%. 421-a has always been not a guiding philosophy of bringing us together, but of lining the pockets of the 1%.”

Madeline Mendez is a tenant living in the Bronx and an organizer with CASA, a grassroots organization that works to break through the divisions that developers consistently try to set up between construction workers and local residents. “I’m here against the 421-a because it’s not helping a lot of people,” said Mendez. “As I see, it’s for the middle class and the upper class, not for the low income who are disabled and seniors. Section 8 is also being pushed out.”

During a brief interlude in the conference, Mendez summed up the issue. “Stop thinking about the developers!” she cried out. “Think about us!”



Cameron Orr
Cameron Orr

Cameron Orr is a musician and writer living in Jersey City, New Jersey.