Scott Stringer calls for “universal affordable housing,” end to 421a

Mayoral hopeful unveils housing plan, blasts de Blasio’s as gentrification engine

New York /
Jan.January 29, 2020 02:20 PM
Scott Stringer (Credit: Getty Images)

Scott Stringer (Credit: Getty Images)

Mayoral contender Scott Stringer laid out a housing plan Wednesday that would require affordable apartments in all projects larger than 10 units. He also called for the elimination of the most popular tax break for new housing in the city.

Stringer, the city comptroller, proposed “universal affordable housing” — developers of all projects with 10 units or more would have to make at least 25 percent of the apartments affordable. On average, they would have to be within the price range of households earning 60 percent of the area median income.

“In the name of development and the name of growth, we’re leaving far, far too many of our people behind,” he said at the YM & YWHA of Washington Heights and Inwood. “The status quo is nothing less than taxpayer-funded gentrification.”

The comptroller railed at the centerpiece of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s housing plan, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, saying it has failed to create enough deeply affordable units and has “cherry-picked” communities for rezonings that exacerbated speculative buying. Conservatives have criticized it as well. The program has recently suffered a series of setbacks, with planned rezonings in Bushwick and the South Bronx coming to a screeching halt.

Representatives for the mayor’s office did not immediately return requests for comment.

Stringer also called for the end to the Albany-controlled tax break previously known as 421a, now dubbed “Affordable New York.” The comptroller, though, mostly criticized the expired version of the benefit, citing a 2015 Independent Budget Office report’s findings that the $66 million in forsaken tax revenue at Extell Development’s 157 West 57th Street could have created nearly 400 affordable apartments instead of the 66 that ultimately resulted. The 421a program expired four years ago and was revised by state lawmakers.

“We need to fundamentally change the bargain between the city and the real estate industry,” he said. “We can’t keep spending billions and billions getting so little affordability in return.”

His message seemed aimed at appealing to housing advocates who have called for an end to Affordable New York as part of a list of demands for state lawmakers.

But Stringer’s speech did not go over well with the real estate industry.

“Collectively, it shows a shockingly shallow grasp of housing policy for someone who has been in office for as long as he has,” a representative for a major developer said. “I think it came as a surprise to a lot of folks. He’s been moving to the left pretty dramatically in preparation for the primary.”

Stringer, who spent 13 years in the Assembly and eight years as Manhattan borough president before starting as comptroller in 2014, is competing with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and former Veteran Affairs Commissioner Loree Sutton for the Democratic nomination for mayor in 2021.

Real Estate Board of New York President James Whelan said that while creating rental units is the “city’s most important housing goal,” such housing will not be built without a subsidy unless the state’s property tax system is reformed to reduce the levy on rental housing.

“Some of the comptroller’s ideas announced today are supported by fact and sound policy goals. Others are incomplete and may only exacerbate the city’s critical need for more rental housing,” Whelan said in a statement. “We look forward to examining the numbers behind these proposals to determine their viability.”

Stringer proposed the creation of a “community land bank” to enter into long-term leases on city-owned land (namely, some 1,000 vacant lots) to create permanently affordable housing on the properties. Past examinations have found not all of those lots are appropriate for residential development.

Stringer and Johnson have sworn off donations from the real estate industry, although they are not returning its past contributions to their campaigns. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who was accepting such donations, announced this week that he will not run for mayor and will leave politics when his term expires in two years.

Write to Kathryn Brenzel at [email protected]


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