The Real Deal New York

Editor's note: Cutting the red tape

By Stuart Elliott | March 01, 2017 07:00AM

Stuart Elliott

These days, everything you knew — or thought you knew — about government can basically be thrown out the window.

Whether you’re in the Trump Camp or the Never-Ever-Trump Camp, there seems to be a need to rethink the effectiveness of our institutions from the ground up. That may mean revamping the system so it functions properly, provides the checks and balances that make a democracy work, serves the will of the people — and creates a climate in which business thrives.

Of course, while The Real Deal has been closely covering the Trump administration, when it comes to New York City developers, the rubber really hits the road with the city (not federal) government. Development lives or dies as a result of city officials.

And there is plenty of red tape slowing down business and plenty of reform opportunity when it comes to New York City’s bureaucratic maze.

This month, in our cover story, we look at the overworked and underfunded agencies that are trying to keep pace with overseeing and regulating the city’s mammoth real estate industry.

The industry generated $116 billion in economic activity in 2015 and accounted for 41 percent of the city’s tax revenue, according to one estimate. But it took just one government employee to go on vacation while developers were rushing to get projects approved right before the sunset of the popular 421a tax abatement to completely hobble the system. Developers, who had millions of dollars of tax breaks on the line, got a reprieve when the 421a program was extended.

We do an exhaustive look at the alphabet soup of agencies — DOB, AG, DOF, DHCR — to zero in on the biggest problem areas. See page 44.

Some of these agencies are making strides in adapting to a digital world, but many others are not. One office, for example, still uses an antiquated cataloguing system in which staffers write project information on index cards and stow them away in giant filing cabinets.

Meanwhile, here at TRD, big data is changing the way we do things. Our research department is growing rapidly and has given us an edge in terms of breaking news and long-format reporting — helping us generate countless scoops, rankings and investigative pieces.

As part of that, we’re finally launching our research vertical and research services division — dubbed TRData — next month.  We’ll be kicking off the launch on the morning of March 9 with an event in Midtown that will include a series of panels. Check out TheRealDeal.com/TRD-Events for more information.

Back to the issue, and unavoidably, Trump. In a story on page 34, we look at the president’s impact on foreign investment in NYC real estate. Brokers say that there’s a lingering anxiety among overseas investors stemming from Trump’s travel ban and tightening of the U.S. borders. Even before that, the amount of foreign investment in NYC real estate dropped 73 percent from November to January compared to the prior year (the period mostly after Trump’s election but before he took office). We’ll have to see what the coming months bring.

We also have a story on Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure program, and two NYC real estate figures, Richard LeFrak and Steve Roth, who are advising Trump. It could be a huge windfall for New York, but also raises conflict-of-interest issues. See page 82. And check out our profile of Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, who, like the developer-in-chief, is a real estate investor who has a quick Twitter thumb.

Finally, we have two residential brokerage rankings worth checking out. One takes a look at new-development marketing firms, and the significant slowdown being seen in that sector (that might be a good thing in terms of allowing luxury demand to catch up with supply). See page 64. We also rank the city’s rental brokerage firms, looking at who has the most exclusives, in a story on page 56.

Enjoy the issue.