public housing

Lawmaker Charges Mayor Snubbed $3 Billion Boost for Public Housing

Mayor Bill de Blasio delivers his executive budget at City Hall, on April 25, 2019.
Mayor Bill de Blasio delivers his executive budget at City Hall, on April 25, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Mayor Bill de Blasio blocked support for a state bill that could have generated up to $3 billion for the cash-strapped city Housing Authority, the measure’s sponsor charged.

Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez (D-East Harlem), whose district includes several NYCHA developments, proposed excluding luxury condos and co-ops from a widely used tax abatement — and using the revenue to help fund much-needed public housing repairs.

“I think it absolutely is a lost opportunity,” Rodriguez told THE CITY. “We had the opportunity to fix what is a flaw in the condo/co-op program that disproportionately benefits the wealthy and redirect it to those who need it the most.”

Overall, the tax break for eligible owner-occupied condos and co-ops is set to cost the city an estimated $612 million this tax year, according to an analysis by the Citizens Housing & Planning Council, a non-partisan group that urged redirecting the abatement as a way to help NYCHA.

The group estimates that 10% of condos and co-ops — about 30,000 apartments — are valued by the city Department of Finance for assessment purposes at $1.8 million or more. Ending the abatement for those properties would generate $168 million to $178 million for the city annually, the Citizens Housing & Planning Council found.

Rodriguez’s bill, sponsored in the state Senate by Sen. Brian Kavanaugh (D-Manhattan), proposes steering that money to NYCHA, which could then use the steady stream of tax revenue as collateral to back up to $3 billion in bonds for repairs.

Kavanaugh did not return calls seeking comment.

Property Tax Inequities Cited

Rodriguez said that as of last Friday, he’d been led to believe the bill would be put on the Assembly agenda, with the legislative session set to soon end.

Then de Blasio’s team weighed in, according to Rodriguez, opposing the measure as a piecemeal approach to a bigger problem facing the city: inequities baked into the property tax system.

Homeowners in middle-income neighborhoods can find themselves paying higher property taxes than those who own in upper-income areas. Owing to quirks in state tax law, ultra-luxury condos and co-ops generally fare better on their bills than house owners.

De Blasio promised to confront these issues when he first ran for mayor in 2013. But it took him until 2017 to form a commission, which has been holding public hearings and is preparing to release recommendations on how to fix the system.

Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez (D-Manhattan) says the mayor missed out.
Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez (D-Manhattan) says the mayor missed out. Photo: New York State Assembly

“Their desire was that the bill not be advanced pending this report from this commission. They believe they don’t want to move ahead with something that was a temporary fix,” Rodrigurez said. “As a result of the city’s position, [the bill] wasn’t advanced.”

A City Hall spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

Vernell Robinson, a resident of NYCHA’s Carleton Manor in Far Rockaway, Queens, and a member of the tenant advocacy group Community Voices Heard, said her group likely will fight to bring back Rodriguez’s bill in the next session.

“We won’t let this go unchallenged,” she said Thursday. “Today we learned that the city and state governments shortchanged NYCHA tenants again. Assemblyman Rodriguez had a proposal to raise billions of dollars to fix NYCHA. It didn’t happen and we haven’t seen reasonable alternatives in either the city or state capital budgets.”

A Huge Repair Bill

The Housing Authority recently estimated it needs some $32 billion in repairs to upgrade all its apartments. NYCHA, the landlord to 400,000 New Yorkers, has struggled to keep up with repairs in its deteriorating buildings, most of which were built before 1960.

The authority relies for nearly all its funds from the federal government, which has reduced its contribution to NYCHA. Last year, Congress approved a brief boost in funding, but the federal housing officials are again proposing cuts.

The state — which had kicked into NYCHA for years — ended its subsidy in the 1990s under then-Gov. George Pataki. In 2015, Gov. Andrew Cuomo began setting aside state money for NYCHA.

But $450 million of the $550 million he’s committed to the authority has yet to be turned over as promised amid mismanagement of NYCHA that spurred the installation of a federal monitor.

“I think that we should have taken action to address this even in the short term,” Rodriguez said. “The assumption that you’re going to get comprehensive property tax reform and not fix the problem is shortsighted.”

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