December 1, 2010

The Real Estate Industry and Albany in 2011

Only a year ago, the climate in Albany for the real estate industry seemed ever more threatening. The governor actually lived in a rent-regulated apartment and was proud of it. Democrats in the Assembly had prepared an onerous series of bills to strengthen rent rules. The Senate was in Democratic hands and passage of the Assembly package in both houses seemed possible. Today, with the Senate almost guaranteed to return to Republican control, the industry is in much better position to protect its interests–just as the city’s rent regulation system laws are set to expire at midyear.

Make no mistake. Republicans know they owe the industry a big debt. The Real Estate Board of New York and the Rent Stabilization Association committed millions of dollars in Senate races. The two groups used somewhat different strategies, however. RSA backed Republicans exclusively to return the Senate to GOP control. The GOP leadership is grateful.

REBNY’s position was more flexible. It too wanted a Republican victory and backed mostly GOP senators. But concerned with the seeming drift of the state to the Democrats, it also sought Democratic allies to moderate that party’s real estate positions. REBNY supported three Democrats: Craig Johnson, Darrel Aubertine and David Valesky. Unfortunately for REBNY, the first two lost. REBNY may need to make amends with the Republican winners it didn’t back. By failing to help those Democrats, it may have planted doubts with other Democrats who wonder whether accepting REBNY’s help is worth antagonizing tenant advocates and the Working Families Party.

While the industry’s position in Albany has improved, the resolution of rent regulations and other issues is likely to depend on Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo. Once an industry critic, he worked in real estate at Island Capital Group for Andrew Farkas between his time in Washington and becoming attorney general. Mr. Cuomo even tapped Andrew Farkas to serve as his campaign finance chairman, demonstrating how close they are. But despite the connection, Mr. Cuomo has been very circumspect on real estate issues.

At the moment, the best prediction is that rent rules will be simply extended. The governor doesn’t need a divisive fight that deflects attention from his reform agenda. Republicans can always threaten to allow all the rules to expire if the Assembly isn’t reasonable. Beyond rent regulation, it isn’t clear whether the governor is interested in new policies to spur new housing and commercial development. The first hint of that may come when he makes his key appointments. So far, no word from Mr. Cuomo on that front.