As the June 15 expiration of the 421a tax abate program approaches, groups advocating for both sides of the debate are intensifying efforts to win public opinion.
Real estate lobbyists are coming up against unions and contractors, with both sides launching expensive advertising campaigns. The newest participant to the ad push is Affordable Housing and Local Jobs Now, a group that is backed by Real Estate Board of New York, the New York State Association for Affordable Housing and the New York State National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The group aims to prevent what it calls “a deceptive wage proposal being pushed by special interests that would stop builders from hiring local workers, and dramatically cut the number of new affordable housing units that would be built.”
The group is pushing for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan for reforming the directive, particularly the provision that would require all companies under the program to create affordable housing.
The coalition is taking its argument to the masses, releasing the first of a series of TV commercials that will air in New York City and Albany.
“New York is in the midst of a housing crisis and our families need relief. 421-a is the only tax abatement available as-of-right for mixed-income affordable housing,ˮ said Jolie Milstein, the president of the New York State Association for Affordable Housing.
“Adding a prevailing wage requirement to a continuation of 421-a would make it more difficult for local workers to access job opportunities on these sites and inhibit the development of more affordable housing units. That’s why passing a clean 421-a bill is so important. Nothing should get in the way of creating the affordable housing and local jobs we need.”
Sherwin Belkin, a founding partner at law firm Belkin Burden Wenig & Goldman, echoed Milstein’s comments, describing 421a as a “very important program.” “I think it’s created buildings. It’s added to the real estate tax base to New York City tremendously. It’s created construction jobs. It creates service jobs, amenity jobs. It’s revitalized neighborhoods,” he said.
Affordable Housing and Local Jobs Now is also advocating to keep wage requirements out of the 421-a program. This puts it at odds with Up4NYC, an alliance of contractors and worker’s unions.
Up4NYC is demanding that companies taking advantage of government tax breaks must pay union wages. Two weeks ago, the coalition released an ad called “Honest Day’s Work.”
“It’s absolutely unacceptable that companies … think they are entitled to millions of dollars in tax breaks, then turn around and hire contractors that pay their workers a substandard and illegal wage,” said Pat Purcell, the executive director of the Greater NY Laborers-Employers Cooperation & Education Trust.
“This is really simple: if developers are going to receive tax breaks through the 421a program, they should be required to pay their workers a decent middle-class wage.”
The campaigns have exhibited the deep pockets of both sides of the arguments. The Up4NYC campaign was paid for by the NYC and Vicinity Carpenters Labor Management Corporation and the Greater NY-Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust.
The group did not disclose how much it spent for radio and TV ads. However, a report from Capital New York claims it is a “seven figure sum.”
REBNY, on the other hand, is known for spending heavily on political campaigns. Earlier last month, it was revealed that members of REBNY spent $21.7 million on campaign contributions during the last state election.