The newly-elected City Council speaker Corey Johnson won’t be shying away from real estate issues.
Johnson, 35, was elected in an overwhelming majority by his peers January 3 to lead the governmental body. He follows outgoing speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who tackled many big issues during her time as speaker, including cracking down on tenant harassment.
So far, Johnson has garnered the support of the New York Building Congress, and the Real Estate Board of New York.
“Throughout his career, Speaker Johnson has proven himself to be an ardent public servant, and he is well-suited to lead our city’s legislative body,” said Carlo A. Scissura, president & CEO of the New York Building Congress, in a statement last week.
“I am proud to call Corey a friend and look forward to working with him to build a better New York and ensure that the building and construction industry continues to prosper.”
“We congratulate Speaker Corey Johnson, on his election to lead the New York City Council,” said John H. Banks, REBNY President, in a statement to Real Estate Weekly.
“We look forward to working with him and his City Council colleagues to address the critical challenges our City faces, including the continued need to build more housing to meet demand at all income levels in every neighborhood and create more good jobs.”
Johnson was one of the sponsors of a bill that was enacted at the end of last year that requires the Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD) to create a publicly available “watch list” of endangered affordable housing, where tenants may be at risk of being displaced.
He also helped lead the way to a landmark land-use agreement that helped save Pier 40 in Greenwich Village by allowing a joint venture to buy the air rights to save the crumbling pier, while creating close to 500 units of affordable housing.
Affordable housing developers like the Hudson Companies and Ron Moelis, CEO of L+M Development Partners, have shown their support for working with the new speaker.
“Corey Johnson is a strong leader who understands the importance not simply of building and preserving affordable housing, but of the community building work that goes into making those projects successful,” said Moelis. “He importantly has the council’s broad support and we’re excited to work with him.”
“We look forward to working with Corey, the full Council and Mayor de Blasio on our shared goals of dramatically increasing and preserving affordable and supportive housing that reaches the most vulnerable populations in all five boroughs, including formerly homeless and LGBT youth,” said Christopher Tepper, senior project manager at the Hudson Companies. “Reaching those populations is a focus of our La Central and Peninsula projects in the Bronx, and our BEC and Myrtle Avenue projects in Brooklyn. With Corey’s leadership, we hope to work together on more such projects in the years ahead.”
In a radio interview with Brian Lehrer on WNYC Monday morning, Johnson praised previous speaker Viverito and promised to continue her work on protecting immigrants and paving the way for the closure of Rikers Island.
But he said what he will do differently is use the City Council’s “full chartered mandated authority” as the final arbiter of certain decisions, including land use.
Johnson said he supports a millionaire’s tax and congestion pricing, and wants to see a progressive majority in the state senate to make that happen.
“We need to tackle big issues, which means we need a Democratic majority, which we have in the State Assembly, in the State Senate,” said Johnson.
On the retail front, Johnson called rising commercial rents and empty storefronts one of the biggest issues in New York City, and pledged that he would “find a solution.”
“There is an appetite to think creatively about this,” he said. He referenced a bill proposed in 2014 by Councilmember Annabel Palma called the Small Business Jobs Survival Act that would establish a right to commercial lease renewal, and added that he was committed to having a hearing on the bill.
While Johnson pointed out that NYC has many statistical bright spots, including the lowest crime levels in decades last year, there are still big problems that need to be addressed.
He said “the rent is too damn high,” and families can’t afford to live in New York City, while the subways are in a state of disrepair and New Yorkers are “fed up.”
“When I moved here in 2001, the rent was affordable,” said Johnson. “I now live in a 340 s/f apartment and its $3,000 a month. That makes me crazy. I can afford that rent. There are plenty who cannot afford that. I don’t know if a 19-year-old can move here like I did on a wing and a prayer.”