‘This Ballgame Ain’t Over’: Bill de Blasio Refuses to Accept Defeat in Albany

Mayor Bill de Blasio (Photo: Will Bredderman).

Mayor Bill de Blasio (Photo: Will Bredderman/New York Observer). (Photo: Will Bredderman for Observer

Mayor Bill de Blasio said today it was “premature” to comment on the framework deal Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the leaders of State Legislature this week on the city’s rent laws, the 421a building tax credit and mayoral control of schools—a deal that left Mr. de Blasio all but empty handed.

Speaking on WCBS 880 radio, the mayor again declined to remark upon the outline of the arrangement Mr. Cuomo, Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie forged earlier this week. The agreement gave Mr. de Blasio almost nothing of what he lobbied Albany for, and he seemed to take a defiant tone toward the state capital, where his policy proposals faced opposition from both Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Flanagan.

“The most important thing to say to Albany is ‘this ballgame ain’t over yet,'” he said, stressing that talks about the rent regulations affecting more than 1 million apartments and about the 421a abatement. “Those issues are live as we speak, and negotiations I know went well into the night. So from my point of view, it’s premature to speak about the overall situation. We’ve got to see it play out.”

At an Albany press conference on Tuesday, Mr. Cuomo said that the deal will raise the threshold at which a landlord may remove apartment from the rent control program from the current ceiling of $2,500 a month. The governor also said that the new regulations would raise the level at which a property owner may pass the costs of major capital improvements, or MCIs, to buildings along to tenants.

Both fall short of what Mr. Cuomo, Mr. de Blasio and tenant leaders called for: an end to vacancy decontrol, whereby a property owner may remove an apartment from the rent control program if it becomes unoccupied. The mayor and his liberal allies hoped to make MCI charges a one-time fee to a tenant, rather than a permanent add-on to the rent, and also wanted to abolish the “vacancy bonus”—which permits a landlord to raise the rent of a stabilized unit by 20 percent if death or relocation leaves it empty.

The governor explicitly linked the renewal of rent laws to the 421a tax abatement. The exemption was created in the early 1970s to spur construction during an economic downturn, and was revised in the 1980s to include provisions for below-market housing. Critics note that the current program only requires developers to include affordable units if their buildings are in the “Geographic Exclusion Area” covering less than 17 percent of the five boroughs, and that it costs the city upwards of $1.1 billion in foregone revenues.

Mr. de Blasio unveiled his own proposal for the tax credit, which would end the exclusion area and require affordable housing in rental buildings in the program citywide, while eliminating the exemption for condominiums. The governor undercut the mayor by arguing that state law should obligate developers—who endorsed Mr. de Blasio’s ideas—to pay construction workers prevailing wages, a requirement Mr. de Blasio asserted would cost the city much needed below-market apartments.

The mayor ultimately called for 421a to expire if it were not reformed to his liking, but the framework deal will prolong the exemption in its present form for six months, giving the building trades unions and real estate interests time to come to a deal on pay rates. If they come to a consensus, the program would last just as long as the rent regulations.

On mayoral control of city schools, a power Albany originally delegated to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Mr. de Blasio faced bitter defeat. He asked that the policy be made permanent, but Mr. Cuomo instead supported extending the program another three years.

Ultimately, it was extended just one year, forcing Mr. de Blasio to return to Albany and plead for its renewal again next year.

The mayor did have praise for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, the man he backed to replace former Speaker Sheldon Silver after the latter stepped down amid corruption charges earlier this year.

“I’ll say this: I was very, very impressed by Speaker  Heastie, and I want to thank him and the Assembly, because they have consistently acted, and taken important issues and done something about them in ways we think were very fair to the people of this city,” he said. “The Assembly has been right on the ball, and my hope is we’re going to see some additional progress before this is over.”

The 2015 legislative session was supposed to end last Wednesday, but Mr. Cuomo detained the Senate and Assembly in Albany to finish negotiations.