By Bill Parry
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Sunday a push for legislation to create a new housing program that will replace the 421-a tax abatement to allow developers to move forward with mega-developments such as the Hallets Point project in Astoria.
The Durst Organization scaled back that $1.5 billion complex — which would have consisted of five buildings with 2,400 apartments, 484 of them affordable — to just one building after the 421-a program was allowed to expire last January.
The Real Estate Board of New York and the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York reached a deal in November that expands the production of affordable housing and provides fair wages for construction workers. Under Cuomo’s new “Affordable New York” housing program, developers of new residential projects with 300 or more units in certain areas of Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan would be eligible for a full property-tax abatement for 35 years, provided they commit a certain number of rental units to remain affordable for 40 years, and pay construction workers an enhanced average wage and benefits.
“This agreement will help fulfill the real need for more affordable housing in New York City while recognizing the work of the employees who build them,” Cuomo said. “This agreement will expand housing opportunities for low-income individuals by lowering income eligibility requirements, and extend affordability for projects created with 421-a for an additional five years.”
The governor urged the state Legislature to approve his “Affordable New York” program and to unlock $2 billion in funds for his affordable housing program. The loss of 421-a has slowed development in the city after the governor shot down a deal brokered by Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2015.
“I do think the absence of 421-a has been unhelpful to say the least,” de Blasio said. “I don’t think it has been critical, in the sense of a lot of great work continues to be done, and a lot was already in the pipeline, but we need it, and I am increasingly optimistic that it will be done soon.”
Meanwhile, Cuomo outlined his 2018 Executive Budget in Albany Tuesday night. He said his $152-billion spending plan is designed to strengthen the middle class while reducing taxes and making smart investments in New York’s future. It would begin a middle-class tax cut for 6 million New Yorkers — saving households $250 on average next year and $700 annually when fully implemented — while extending the tax rate on millionaires, with a surcharge on individuals making more than $1 million annually, affecting 45,000 taxpayers, 50 percent of whom are non-residents.
“So, our prime focus this year is, I’m addressing the problems of the middle class, and all of the problems with the middle class,” Cuomo said. “We want to cut income taxes for the middle class, reduce property taxes for the middle class, make college affordable, which is always the dream that you will be able to send your child to college and that dream has become more and more of illusion for too many New York and American families.”
Cuomo’s budget invests $163 million to make college tuition free for middle-class families at SUNY and CUNY schools, and includes a $1 billion increase in aid to elementary schools.
His plan would also allow for beer and wine sales in movie theaters, the privatization of horse racing at Belmont, Aqueduct, and Saratoga and $260 million to help non-profit social services organizations meet payroll in light of the state’s rising minimum wage. Cuomo also mentioned his big-ticket infrastructure items such as the redevelopment of LaGuardia and JFK airports. And then he mentioned this:
“We’re illuminating all of the bridges in New York City with different colored lights and the bridges can then be coordinated and choreographed to music,” Cuomo said. “So literally you’ll have bridges all across the New York City area that are choreographed. Nothing like this has been done on the planet.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr