Real estate looks like a winner in mayor’s race

Two leading candidates won’t wage war on developers, landlords

New York News Analysis /
Jun.June 18, 2021 08:00 AM
Eric Adams, Kathryn Garcia and Maya Wiley (Getty/iStock, Photo Illustration by Kevin Rebong for The Real Deal)

Eric Adams, Kathryn Garcia and Maya Wiley (Getty/iStock, Photo Illustration by Kevin Rebong for The Real Deal)

The mayor’s race is still undecided, but real estate is on the verge of victory.

Notwithstanding left-wing candidate Maya Wiley’s recent gains, the latest polling indicates the industry will get a mayor it can work with: Eric Adams or Kathryn Garcia.

Only two years ago, that seemed unlikely. Anti-real estate forces had risen as housing costs did. Political candidates increasingly blamed the industry for gentrification and rent burdens and rejected its money. The state legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo turned against landlords with a sweeping new rent law.

Mayor Bill de Blasio — a formerly pro-growth politician who had backed the Atlantic Yards megaproject in the 2000s — followed suit. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, too: He opposed Amazon’s headquarters project and stopped taking industry donations. The real estate lobby became so toxic that it had to form coalitions to get lawmakers to listen.

But with the June 22 Democratic primary at hand, it’s Adams’ race to lose and Garcia’s to win.

Either candidate is acceptable to real estate. Adams, a centrist who embraces business, has been called “a landlord with a pro-landlord perspective” and is benefiting from industry campaign contributions.

Garcia, also a moderate, asserts that the city needs to build, not regulate, its way to affordability. The first words of her housing policy are: “In the last decade, we added 500,000 New Yorkers but only 100,000 units of new housing.” And she is the inverse of de Blasio — a manager, not an ideologue.

Real estate’s lone concern is Wiley, who has profited from the collapse of rivals Andrew Yang, Scott Stringer and Dianne Morales. But she is 5 to 11 points behind Adams and about even with Garcia. Her hope that the new ranked-choice voting system can vault her past both is far-fetched, based on results from ranked-choice elections elsewhere, where the candidate ahead on the first count has won virtually every time.

Another thing: Wiley’s commercials will not air as often as her rivals’ in the final days of the race because she ran short on cash. “If you aren’t at full spin in the last two weeks … then you’re going to get drowned out,” said an operative for one person running. “People are barely going to see your ads compared to other candidates.”

Her poll gains make late fundraising possible, but air time, like airfares, costs far more when booked at the last minute.

All this points to a favorable result for real estate after a rough few years.

What explains its apparent political recovery? Essentially this: Development is less unpopular with New Yorkers than its haters think. And the far left is still only about one-third of the Democratic electorate.

The ascent of ultra-progressives has been overstated. Amazon’s campus was killed by a minority, albeit a vocal one, led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Her endorsements make a real difference in only six or seven of the 51 City Council districts, according to internal polling. Wiley needs far more than the AOC crowd in a citywide, high-turnout election that brings moderates to the polls, which is why real estate interests funded a get-out-the-vote effort.

“A lot of people touting this great left-wing revolution have forgotten that in a Democratic primary for mayor, two-thirds of the electorate identifies themselves as moderate or conservative,” the operative said.

These voters support development and something else important to real estate: the police. A key to ex-cop Eric Adams’ rise in the polls has been the increase in crime and perceived disorder.

Housing, though, remains a top issue — and a key differentiator among the candidates.

Wiley’s housing platform is based on fantastic, unachievable promises that pander to anti-capitalists. She “guarantees” that in a Wiley administration, no New Yorkers will pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent — something 44 percent of renter households currently do. One-quarter spend more than half of their earnings on rent.

What magic wand might Wiley wave to erase the rent burden of nearly 1 million tenants? Cutting the Police Department budget by $1 billion, as Wiley would, would only yield about $80 per rent-burdened household per month.

She does not actually plan to spend NYPD money on tenant aid. Rather, her website portrays a future in which public funding seems to rain down from the heavens. She would use this funny money to “dramatically expand and preserve the supply of affordable housing in the city by building 100 percent permanently affordable housing on public land.”

The city’s existing supply of such housing needs $42 billion in repairs. Wiley would devote $2 billion a year to that, but Housing Authority tenants would not appreciate her building new developments while their own fall apart.

“We must do everything we can,” the former de Blasio counsel declares, to house every New Yorker. Well, not everything. She opposes building private, mixed-income housing on public land, which would cost the city nothing.

Her embrace of the rallying cry “keep public housing public” channels the fear-mongering opponents of a rare NYCHA success story: the RAD program, in which private firms renovate and maintain Housing Authority developments without raising rents.

In another unkeepable pledge, Wiley vows to enforce a “strong eviction moratorium” until the “economic crisis” ends, meaning indefinitely. That would be a problem for landlords — if the city actually had that power.

Wiley does oppose “cancel rent” and rolling back stabilized rents. She also calls for expanding ownership and wealth-building, but with “protections against further gentrification.” Those policies are at odds: Gentrification produced windfalls for homeowners of color in neighborhoods such as Harlem and Fort Greene. Limiting price appreciation with community land trusts (which Wiley favors) limits wealth building, too.

But industry leaders’ primary fear about Wiley is that she would demonize them. That is not a risk with Adams and Garcia.

“New York may be a group of communities, but it is also one city, and we should all be in this recovery together,” Adams says on his campaign site. “Let’s start acting like it.”

The Brooklyn borough president, however, does pose other concerns, namely that he would hire mediocre (or worse) aides and not assert himself when the City Council stifles development, as it did in Industry City with no pushback from Adams.

Another red flag is that he perpetuates the dubious assertion that adding housing in low-income areas “led to higher-income people moving in, making communities less affordable, and often forcing out longtime residents.”

But developers would much rather build in high-income neighborhoods anyway, and Adams is gung-ho about that. It’s one reason he was real estate’s top choice early in the race. He vows “aggressive” housing construction, declaring, “Housing — including affordable housing — can and should be put anywhere it can go, as long as it benefits those who need it.”





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