BALCONY - Business and Labor Coalition of New York
June 24th, 2016

By Sally Goldenberg

An activist group that has long criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio’s housing plan is targeting an affordable housing association with a barrage of attacks and a call for all elected officials not to accept campaign contributions from the association.

New York Communities for Change has launched a push to publicly shame the New York State Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH), arguing that the trade organization is responsible for gentrification and the city should rely on nonprofit developers as it increases the stock of below-market-rate housing.
NYSAFAH counts both for-profit and nonprofit developers of below-market-rate housing among its membership, according to its website.

The new campaign, known as “The Real Gentrifiers of NYC,” recently protested outside the Greenwich, Conn., home of a leading for-profit developer of low- and middle-income housing in the city – Ron Moelis of L+M Development Partners.

Moelis is a member of NYSAFAH and a prolific developer. He currently is building the massive Essex Crossing complex on the Lower East Side.

He previously has been the target of construction unions over his preference for non-union workers who work for lower wages.

“NYSAFAH developers often act like the Koch brothers and try to buy elections as a way to rig housing and development policy in their favor. We plan to turn the 2017 election cycle into a major referendum on NYSAFAH developers and the most extreme consequences of their gentrification playbook in our city,” Renata Pumarol, who works for New York Communities for Change, said in a prepared statement.

“Our message is very simple: electoral candidates, especially those who represent and care about low-income communities of color, should think twice before accepting money from NYSAFAH developers,” she added. The group did not have research compiled on exactly how much money the housing association has donated to political campaigns in recent years.

New York Communities for Change also started a website to chronicle its campaign. The site will feature negative profiles of developers – “a rogues’ gallery of greedy bad actors who maximize profit on the backs of poor people of color,” in the words of a press release from the group.

“This is yet another misleading political attack orchestrated by construction unions seeking to increase their market share,” a spokesman for NYSAFAH said. “Their irrational campaign targets those who are already addressing New York’s urgent housing crisis rather than pursuing efforts to create new affordable units. NYSAFAH remains undeterred and our members will continue building more of the low-income housing New Yorkers need.”

The push may seem contradictory: affordable housing advocates slamming the state’s most prominent association of affordable housing developers.

But New York Communities for Change – a spin-off of the now-defunct organization ACORN – has argued for several years that affordable housing built in concert with the de Blasio administration is hurting low-income communities instead of helping them.

The argument, which mirrors a broader criticism of the mayor’s housing plan, is that by aggressively constructing new development in poor neighborhoods, builders are making those areas more attractive to market-rate developers, and eventually long-time residents will be priced out. While NYSAFAH’s members build apartments at below the market rate, the units are available to a range of tenants, some of whom are very poor and others who would be regarded as middle class.

The counterargument from de Blasio and his supporters is that every corner of New York City is being gentrified, and ensuring that some of the new housing is reserved for low-income tenants is the only way to protect them.

Moelis and other for-profit housing developers set their rents based in large part on government subsidies: The more money they receive from the city’s housing agency, the more they can build. Less subsidy means either fewer units or higher rents, because the projects must be cleared for financing from outside lenders.
New York Communities for Change has previously partnered with the city’s construction unions in opposing aspects of the mayor’s housing plan and the trades are likely to join this push as well, a source familiar with the effort said. Photographs from the rally outside Moelis’s house show signs that made reference to “wage theft” and “good union jobs.”