Two takeaways for real estate from Albany’s power weekend

Doubts about eviction bill; Heastie distances self from industry

Feb.February 19, 2020 07:00 AM
From left: Slate Property Group's David Schwartz, Patrick Jenkins, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate majority leader Stewart Cousins, and Julia Salazar (Credit: Getty Images)

From left: Slate Property Group’s David Schwartz, Patrick Jenkins, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate majority leader Stewart Cousins, and Julia Salazar (Credit: Getty Images)

Each winter, hundreds of lawmakers and politicos descend on Albany for a weekend of dealmaking and festivities.

Nearly all the state’s top politicians took part in the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus’ annual retreat this past weekend.

Two takeaways for real estate: Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie does not want to be seen as even a potential ally of the industry, and anti-eviction legislation is far from likely to pass this session.

Heastie reacted to a TRD article in December postulating that he could be an ally for the real estate industry. The piece cited his close ties to real estate lobbyists including Patrick Jenkins, whose clients included William Zeckendorf and Malaysian casino developer Genting Group. (Jenkins also represented the Durst Organization from January 2017 through April 2019.) Another story, in June, highlighted industry donations to Assembly Democrats’ campaigns but barely mentioned Heastie.

The Real Deal! You guys are killing me all the time,” Heastie told a TRD reporter at a caucus weekend event. “You give an unfair painting of who I am. If I were in the pocket of real estate, why would we have passed the rent laws we did last year? I’ve never been driven by campaign contributions.”

Indeed, the rent reform infuriated the industry. Heastie had assured owners of rent-stabilized apartments that he would maintain an incentive for them to invest in their properties, but then passed a measure eliminating their ability to profit from improvements or to raise rents enough to cover the costs of anything beyond bare-bones repairs.

In his impromptu conversation with TRD, Heastie did not mention Jenkins, whose eponymous firm has expanded rapidly and whose lobbying income tripled after Heastie was elected speaker in 2015, according to disclosures reported by the New York Post. As recently as December, Jenkins was paid by Heastie’s political action committee for consulting, according to campaign filings.

Despite signs that momentum is building for Sen. Julia Salazar’s controversial “good cause eviction” bill, which would limit rent increases even in market-rate housing, even several sponsors of it said at caucus events that they are not certain of its fate.

Bronx Sen. Luis Sepúlveda said he supports good cause “in theory,” but that the legislation may be unlikely to move in a year when so many legislators have primaries in June.

Sen. Kevin Parker, who represents Flatbush, Midwood, Ditmas Park, Park Slope and Windsor Terrace in Brooklyn, said he signed on to the legislation because there is an “eviction problem in New York City, and long-term residents are being pushed out of their homes.”

Just because a majority of Democrats in both houses are sponsoring the bill, however, does not mean it will pass.

“I don’t think it will move this session,” said Parker. “But it could happen.”

Heastie declined to comment on the eviction bill or other specific legislation. “I don’t know where anything is at,” Heastie said, signaling that with more than three months remaining in the legislative session, anything could happen.

But the session is scheduled to end June 2, three weeks earlier than usual, to give legislators facing June primary elections sufficient time to campaign in their districts. That has given real estate interests hope that they can run out the clock on the eviction bill, which is often referred to as universal rent control.

Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Senate majority leader, said the legislature is “very focused on the budget right now,” and is still looking for ways to address the housing affordability crisis.

“There is no question that there is a housing affordability crisis in New York,” Stewart-Cousins told TRD. “No matter where you are, people are trying to figure out how they can live here.”

As for the pro-tenant rent law passed last year, Stewart-Cousins expressed no regrets. Rent stabilization had been modified repeatedly and “certainly not in favor of tenants,” she said, when Democrats and Republicans shared control of the legislature.

“I’m very happy that we stopped and corrected that pendulum swing,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We have to hold on to the affordable housing stock we do have and keep people in those houses.”

Building services union SEIU 32BJ, which one real estate lobbyist called a “natural ally of the real estate industry,” sent half a dozen top officials to Albany to negotiate prevailing-wage legislation, among other priorities, according to a union official.

The Real Estate Board of New York, a sponsor of the event, also attended the caucus weekend. Tenant group Community Voices Heard sent advocates, too. David Schwartz, principal of affordable housing developer Slate Property Group, was on hand as well, saying that attending is a yearly custom.

“There has to be a lane for responsible developers,” Schwartz said, striding into the event with a 32BJ official. “Coming up here is a sign of respect.”

Correction, Feb. 20, 2020: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Patrick Jenkins still lobbies for the Durst Organization.

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