Josue Pierre is challenging Brooklyn State Sen. Kevin Parker — and accusing the incumbent of accepting donations from the “slumlord lobby.”
But unlike many other insurgent candidates taking on Democrats, Pierre is not rejecting all real estate money. He said he will accept contributions from developers who are “doing the right thing.”
Walking both sides of that line, however, is proving to be problematic for the Senate hopeful.
Asked to identify Parker’s alleged “slumlord” donors, a spokesperson said Pierre was referring to donations from the Real Estate Board of New York’s political action committee. Parker has received a little more than $33,000 in donations from REBNY’s PAC over the years.
The accusation left the senator’s staff nonplussed.
“I have no idea what he’s asserting or what he’s talking about,” a spokesperson for the incumbent said. “What I do know is that Senator Parker has always been a champion for affordable housing for all New Yorkers.”
The spokesperson added that Parker played an “essential” role in the state’s passage of the pro-tenant rent-law reform passed in June and supports protections to keep tenants in their homes.
And in a statement, REBNY fired back at Pierre: “Our members create and maintain the housing and good jobs this city so badly needs and real estate accounts for 52 percent of the tax dollars collected annually by the city. It is unfortunate this candidate is more interested in name-calling and distorting the facts.”
Far from a political outsider, Josue “Josh” Pierre has served as a Democratic state committeeman for the 42nd Assembly District since 2016 — an elected, unpaid position — and is a founding member of the Shirley Chisholm Democratic Club.
Pierre also has ties to real estate, but sees that as an advantage, not a liability. Before running for the Senate, he worked for City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s Economically Targeted Investment Program, which invests more than $2.5 billion of New York City’s pension funds into affordable housing development. Pierre said he wants to take that strategy to Albany.
As of August 2019, New York City’s pension funds have more than $207 billion in allocated assets, including more than $11 billion in private real estate and REITs, according to data from Stringer’s office.
Before his stint as a senior financial analyst working with the pension fund to invest in housing development, Pierre was a real estate investment trust auditor for PricewaterhouseCoopers. There, he audited several entities, the largest being Jay Sugarman’s iStar, a publicly traded REIT which has closed more than $40 billion in deals. The developer is currently leading a $1 billion redevelopment in Asbury Park.
“You can have companies that make a profit and allow tenants to afford quality housing,” said Pierre, who was born in Haiti and has lived in New York for most of his life. “Government investments in real estate can produce a reasonable return, if they’re done correctly. There’s the potential to do that.”
He also aims to require housing on public land sold by the city to be 100 percent affordable and to expand mechanisms to enforce the new changes to the rent law. Pierre cheered the rent law passed by the state in June, saying it significantly improves situations for people in East Flatbush and throughout the state who are being exploited.
Pierre opined that the methodology used to compute area median income should be more localized. AMI, calculated by the federal government, determines affordability standards for some apartment projects. But the formula for New York City takes into account Westchester, Rockland and Putnam County incomes, which are far greater than in many New York City neighborhoods. That can lead to units being deemed affordable but priced beyond the reach of most locals.
Pierre also said he had conversations with the Democratic Socialists of America, but the group declined to endorse him. According to Pierre, the talks went nowhere because he’s “not a card-carrying member.”
Megan McRay, co-coordinator for NYC-DSA’s Brooklyn electoral communication committee, said, “A variety of factors are considered in our endorsement process and we would not hazard to boil any endorsement or non-endorsement down to one factor alone.”
The socialist group might have also taken issue with Pierre’s openness to real estate donations, or his hiring of Red Horse Strategies, a political consultancy that advised Queens Borough President Melinda Katz’s successful campaign for district attorney against DSA-backed challenger Tiffany Cabán. Red Horse clients have also included building service workers union 32BJ and Hillary Clinton.