New York state lawmakers closed out a disappointing legislative session this month with little to show for when it comes to critical issues facing struggling New Yorkers.
Despite the fact that Seattle, San Francisco, and most recently, Los Angeles have all agreed to raise their hourly minimum wage to $15 in the coming years, a reasonable expectation that lawmakers here would get behind raising the state’s minimum wage to $10.50 (the state’s minimum wage is currently scheduled to rise to $9.00 in 2016), and set a $11.50 minimum wage for New York City, was dashed by the usual partisan politics and Albany gridlock. Though it appears the state wage board, convened by Gov. Cuomo, will recommend a higher minimum wage for workers in the fast-food industry, an opportunity to raise wages across the board was lost.
Bills establishing paid family leave -- a bi-partisan issue if ever there was one that is picking up momentum around the country -- advanced out of both legislative bodies. But in the end, it suffered from a lack of leadership on the part of the governor. In New York City alone, 50,000 pregnant working women and new dads will be forced to rush back to work prematurely and lose forever that precious time with their newborns. Husbands and wives will be torn from the bedsides of spouses stricken with cancer and sons and daughters will be unable to care for a dying parent without fear of financial ruin and job loss.
And an enormously wasteful public tax subsidy for real estate developers, 421-a, was extended as is for six months, and in modified form for another three and a half years pending an agreement between two interest groups, real estate and the building trades, with no input from low-income communities. Politics and self-interest is the only credible explanation for why 421-a has not been relegated to the trash heap and replaced with a real affordability program that links the value of any tax exemption developers receive to the affordable housing produced. Instead, it’s business as usual. In this case, that means developers continuing to use taxpayer dollars to create “affordable housing,” much of which is really affordable only to those with six-figure incomes.
Finally, on the critical issue of protecting the affordable housing that does exist, and building in stronger tenant protections for the nearly three million New Yorkers who live in rent-stabilized units, the governor and the state legislature failed to live up to their promises. Yes, rent control and rent stabilization was extended for four years. However, with the exception of raising the threshold for deregulating apartments from $2,500 to $2,700 and other half-measure reforms, loopholes allowing landlords to game the system still remain. How bad is it? A CSS analysis determined that rising rents will accelerate the rate of loss – much more than enough to offset the slowdown in deregulation due to the increase in the threshold. We project that the total number of apartments that would be deregulated in four years is at least 87,500.
If there is a silver lining to this legislative session, perhaps it’s the fact that the state budget for FY2016 includes a commitment of $100 million for capital improvements to New York City’s public housing. It’s no secret that the authority’s housing stock is in severe decline after a decade of disinvestment at the city and state level. Mayor de Blasio has committed $300 million in capital funding over three years to address NYCHA’s most urgent infrastructure needs, including roof replacements. The $100 million pledged by the state should also go to urgent capital needs, and not dispersed politically, as the governor has proposed, so that individual lawmakers can take credit for local pet housing projects.
We cannot afford to squander scarce capital resources to restore public housing. The stakes are simply too high.