No more developer-in-chief: Biden to become 46th US president

Democrat defeats Trump, plans changes to real estate industry’s favorite programs

National /
Nov.November 07, 2020 11:39 AM
Joe Biden and Donald Trump (Illustration by The Real Deal)

Joe Biden and Donald Trump (Illustration by The Real Deal)

Former Vice President Joe Biden has defeated President Donald Trump after one of the most divisive races in U.S. history.

Biden will become the nation’s 46th president, with his native Pennsylvania and its 20 Electoral College votes putting him over the top Saturday morning. Counting of votes continues in that state, but news organizations began calling the race after Biden took the lead and his advantage in mailed ballots put him on pace to win it by tens of thousands of votes.

After more than three days of uncertainty, punctuated by claims of election fraud by the president and lawsuits seeking to halt ballot counting in four states, the 77-year-old former vice president clinched the election with wins in several states that Trump had won in 2016. Besides Pennsylvania, those included Michigan and Wisconsin. Biden was also on track to flip Arizona and possibly Georgia.

The election will bring to an end Trump’s norm-shattering tenure, in which the 74-year-old developer from Queens, New York, broke seemingly every rule of presidential politics — tweeting unvetted thoughts to voters, governing on instinct and picking fights with Democratic leaders, reporters and even members of his own administration.

His abrasive style won him a diehard following but also alienated huge swaths of the electorate and motivated Americans to vote in huge numbers.

On Saturday, the president refused to concede.

“The simple fact is this election is far from over,” he said in a statement. “Joe Biden has not been certified as the winner of any states, let alone any of the highly contested states headed for mandatory recounts, or states where our campaign has valid and legitimate legal challenges that could determine the ultimate victor.”

Trump’s campaign is pursuing legal challenges in several states, but experts have not seen much hope for the president in them. Trump has demanded a recount in Wisconsin, which he is entitled to because Biden’s margin of victory was short of 1 percentage point. And the vote differential in Georgia will be close enough to trigger a recount there as well. Aides to the campaign have also indicated the president may run again in 2024, according to CNN.

Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, were expected to take the stage at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware, the state Biden represented in the Senate for nearly four decades, to declare victory at the same location where he accepted the Democratic nomination. Harris will be the first woman and woman of color to serve as vice president in the country’s history.

Trump’s real estate ties and embrace of deregulation and other Republican priorities earned him support from many industry bigwigs, including Vornado Realty Trust CEO Steve Roth and Related Companies chairman Stephen Ross.

But in the months leading up to the election, real estate players — sensing a Biden win, but perhaps also reacting to the president’s handling of the pandemic — donated more money to the challenger than to Trump. Among the industry vets who contributed to Biden’s campaign were affordable housing developer Jonathan Rose, RXR Realty CEO Scott Rechler, Taconic Investment Partners co-CEO Charles Bendit and Tishman Realty’s Dan Tishman.

“A competent, rational and scientific-based response to Covid is essential for the real estate industry,” Douglas Durst, president of the Durst Organization, told The Real Deal in September. He donated at least $14,000 to the Biden campaign, according to public records.

In the past few months, Biden has largely framed the election as a referendum on Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 230,000 Americans and infected more than 9 million people.

He has also repeatedly lambasted the president for his response to far-right extremists, recently calling Trump “one of the most racist presidents we’ve had in modern history.”

During the final presidential debate, Trump pointed to the Opportunity Zones program as part of his argument that no president “has done more for the Black community than Donald Trump.”

Opportunity Zones, created by the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act, provide capital gains tax breaks to developers or property owners who invest in one of 8,700-plus designated “distressed” areas. The program has been criticized for not mandating data collection that might show whether it improves the lives of people in poor neighborhoods.

Biden has proposed ramping up reporting requirements to track whether Opportunity Zone investments are making a difference in housing affordability, poverty and job creation.

Biden has signaled that he will push for changes to other Trump-era policies that affect the real estate industry. The president-elect vowed to reinstate the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which Trump repealed in July — claiming it would keep low-income housing out of suburbs. The 2015 rule required local governments receiving federal housing financing to devise plans to address discriminatory housing practices in their communities. Additionally, Biden has pledged to spend $640 billion on affordable housing over the next decade.

A Biden presidency could also mean changes to 1031 exchanges: He has pitched making them available only to those making less than $400,000 a year. He has also pledged not to raise taxes on households earning less than that amount.

Developer Don Peebles acknowledged that Trump may be better for the private sector in terms of his tax policies, but not to the real estate industry in New York City. Pointing to the city’s ballooning deficit, he said he is not confident Trump would deliver much-needed federal assistance.

“There’s a false perception in the real estate industry that Biden is bad for real estate, and Trump is much better for real estate,” Peebles said. “If you are a property owner or developer in New York City, it is not in your interest for New York City to become insolvent.”

He added that Biden has shown a commitment to eliminating the disparity in minority-owned businesses’ access to capital.

Developer MaryAnne Gilmartin said a Biden presidency would mean having someone in the White House who understands the importance of investing in cities, such as New York. At the same time, if Republicans retain control of the Senate, they will be able to block tax reforms and other progressive policies feared by the real estate industry, she said.
Gilmartin stated that she voted for Biden.

“It has been a rough four years for me,” she said of Trump’s rancorous tenure. “For me, it is so much more complicated than my pocketbook. As a mother, as a New Yorker, as an American.”

It is unclear to what extent the president-elect will drive the agenda in Washington. It is safe to assume, however, that a Biden presidency will not be as friendly to corporations or real estate billionaires as Trump’s has been. When Biden accepted the Democratic nomination for president in August, he criticized the 2017 tax overhaul, calling it a “$1.3 trillion tax giveaway to the wealthiest 1 percent.”

“We don’t need a tax code that rewards wealth more than it rewards work. I’m not looking to punish anyone. Far from it,” he said. “But it’s long past time the wealthiest people and the biggest corporations in this country paid their fair share.”




    Correction: An earlier version of this misstated the historic nature of Kamala Harris becoming the next vice president. She is the first Black, first South Asian and first woman vice president. The first person of color to serve as vice president was Charles Curtis, who was Native American. 


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