Tenant coalition sets agenda: tax the rich and house the poor

The tenant coalition demands a $3 billion commitment to public housing and “good cause” eviction

The group also seeks new taxes on luxury condos and pieds-à-terre, “ultra-millionaires” and real estate transfers. (Credit: iStock)
The group also seeks new taxes on luxury condos and pieds-à-terre, “ultra-millionaires” and real estate transfers. (Credit: iStock)

Tenant advocates who won a sweeping overhaul of New York’s rent law have a new target — the entire housing market.

Housing Justice for All, a statewide coalition of tenant groups, will unveil demands Wednesday for next year’s legislative session that include “good cause” eviction, $3 billion in state funding for public housing and the elimination of rent increases for major capital improvements and the tax abatement formerly known as 421a.

There’s more. The group also seeks new taxes on luxury condos and pieds-à-terre, “ultra-millionaires” and real estate transfers. It estimates that solving the housing affordability crisis requires at least $10 billion. New York’s state budget is currently $170 billion but allocates just $600 million for housing.

The policy platform extends well beyond the radical changes made to New York’s rent law. The coalition seeks to pass “good cause” eviction, which was defeated in the spring after opposition from the real estate industry and some upstate lawmakers. The policy would curtail rent increases on market-rate housing and limit the reasons a landlord may evict a tenant.

The coalition also wants 15 percent of new affordable housing construction set aside for homeless persons until every New Yorker is housed, and 20,000 units set aside for supportive housing, which includes human services.

In the plan, 600,000 new units of democratically controlled not-for-profit housing for low-income earners would be distributed geographically: 396,000 in New York City, 54,000 in the Hudson Valley, 36,000 on Long Island, 30,000 in Finger Lakes region, 24,000 in Western New York and the remaining 60,000 in the Southern Tier, Central New York, North Country, Mohawk Valley and the Capital District. The coalition proposes a permanent rental subsidy to ensure long-term sustainability.

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The tenant group also seeks to eliminate both the 421a and 485a programs, which give tax exemptions to developers of residential and mixed residential and commercial properties, respectively. The group says the programs cost New York billions and “provide no meaningful affordable housing benefit.”

At a recent meeting at the top of the 1199SEIU building, which provided the tenant advocates a view of the Freedom Tower, Billionaires Row and Hudson Yards, they pasted over-size sticky notes next to the windows to criticize the tax subsidies awarded to developers such as The Related Company’s Stephen Ross.

The Hudson Yards development received $6 billion in government benefits, which included a $2.4 billion subway extension and an EB-5 tax subsidy stemming from a gerrymandered district that stretched uptown to include public housing in East Harlem.

To pay for the ambitious package of housing affordability measures, the group proposes a bevy of new taxes aimed at wealthy individuals, the luxury housing market and speculative practices. The group proposed new taxes on the most valuable 10 percent of condos and co-ops, pieds-à-terre tax valued above $5 million, individuals earning more than $5 million, hedge funds’ carried interest and stock purchases by the wealthy.

The coalition’s development of the platform took place over the past weeks and months in meetings from Rochester to Midtown.

Such proposals were for years written off as aspirational, but that changed with the Democratic takeover of the state Senate in the 2018 election and passage in June of a rent bill that all but permanently locked a million apartments into rent regulation.