Can Real Estate Lobby the Left ?

With billions tied to rent reforms on the line, the industry may lose a lot more than elections if it can’t figure out a strategy that goes beyond campaign cash

By Kathryn Brenzel and Will Parker | March 01, 2019 12:00PM

REBNY President John Banks (Illustration by Kagan McLeod)

Cocktail hour at the “Liar’s Ball” — the Real Estate Board of New York’s annual gala — is all about being seen.

Brokers and developers float to and from the open bar, pose for pictures with their peers and public officials, and often sneak out before the main event. At this year’s banquet, though, there were two glaring absences: Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

One week before the largest real estate event of the year, the mayor pledged to seize property from negligent landlords. Five days later, the governor pushed for an end to vacancy decontrol, a move that would make it harder for landlords to turn workforce housing into homes for the rich. And for the first time in recent memory, both leaders failed to make an appearance at REBNY’s gala this January.

If the real estate industry didn’t take that as a clear sign of New York’s political shift, there are plenty of others. A growing number of city and state officials have vowed to reject money from developers, and the state Legislature recently capped political donations from LLCs at $5,000. At the same time, state programs that landlords have enjoyed for nearly three decades — and which often serve as the basis for their entire business models — could soon disappear.

That all comes in the wake of Albany’s new progressive lineup and the disbanding of the rogue, real estate-friendly Independent Democratic Conference.

And then, of course, there’s Amazon ditching its plans for Long Island City in the face of opposition from local politicians. While the mayor and governor gave their mutual support for that deal, backed by roughly $3 billion in subsidies, the larger movement to the left played a key part in killing it.

Related: Amazon’s ashes

“The political environment for real estate is the worst that I’ve seen in 20 years,” said industry lobbyist and attorney Ken Fisher of Cozen O’Connor. “You’ve got elected officials competing to see what new ways of protecting tenants they can come up with. You’ve also got elected officials saying they don’t even want to be known [for receiving] support from the real estate industry — even ones who were happy to take it previously.”

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