Quinn comes through for New York real estate again

Quinn at City Hall. (Dana Rubinstein)
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Mayor Michael Bloomberg is holding his final State of the City address in Barclays Center this afternoon.

Christine Quinn, the Council speaker who's running for mayor with Bloomberg's tacit support, will be there, probably in a conspicuous seat of honor.

The setting is unavoidably symbolic.

The arena was the grounds for one of the bloodiest development fights in recent city history, pitting the mayor’s ally, Bruce Ratner, against the surrounding, quickly gentrifying brownstone community.

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Quinn signalled her tacit support for the project by, among other things, declining to let the City Council hold an oversight hearing on it.

"She never took a public position and wasn't an active supporter, but that equated essentially to support, especially since she's never green-lighted an oversight hearing," Norman Oder, the author of the watchdog blog Atlantic Yards Report, emailed me this morning.

That was one instance of many in recent years that have demonstrated the strength of Quinn's mutually beneficial relationship with the New York City real estate industry, which by and large approves of the way Bloomberg has governed and regards Quinn, in relative terms, as the candidate of continuity.

Today, the New York Times noted that among the raft of proposals in Quinn's own State of the City address was one that would cap property taxes for landlords, in exchange for their keeping certain units "affordable," rather than market-rate.

As the Wall Street Journal’s Eliot Brown said (and as I wrote) right after the speech, that proposal bore a marked resemblance to one introduced by the Real Estate Board of New York, the big landlords’ main lobbying group.

More detail from the Times:

Her proposal would impose a 30-year cap on real estate taxes for landlords who renew participation in a program that sets aside 20 percent of apartments for below-market rents. With dozens of landlords threatening to withdraw from that program, known as 80-20 or 421a, Ms. Quinn said that a new tax cap would encourage them to keep charging lower rents, rather than convert units into market-rate apartments or condominiums.

...

Aides to Mr. Bloomberg said they were surprised, even startled, to see the tax cap proposal prominently featured in Ms. Quinn’s speech.

When the real estate industry sought a similar set of tax incentives through a bill in the New York State Legislature in 2011, Mr. Bloomberg’s office singled out the tax cap for criticism. In a memo, a top aide said the plan was “not, fundamentally, an affordable housing program,” but “a large tax break dressed up as a housing policy.” 

Quinn, who before she was an elected official was, among other things, an affordable-housing activist, has been a reliable ally to the industry since becoming speaker.

Last year, Quinn carved out a portion of the Hudson Yards development and exempted it from her already quite limited living wage bill.

(The project's developer, Related Companies, is a big donor to Quinn.)

And this year, siding against her own political club and many community members, she supported a compromise version of a developer's bid to overhaul Chelsea Market.

When new mayoral candidate Joe Lhota, a business-friendly Republican, tried to woo Related Companies, they demurred.

As the Times reported, “the company’s leaders are loath to do anything that might alienate Ms. Quinn.”