Tenant activists are taking aim at one Democratic state senator for his close ties to the city’s real estate industry.
Alliance for Tenant Power, a liberal pro-tenants organization, is planning a series of tweets and Facebook memes blasting State Senator Jeffrey Klein, a Bronx Democrat and leader of the Independence Democratic Conference. The group is targeting Mr. Klein, a co-leader in the Senate and an ally of the Republican majority, for not supporting their priorities, including a repeal of the controversial tax break, 421-a, an end to vacancy decontrol, and an overall strengthening of rent laws.
“Senator Jeff Klein has nearly 45,000 rent-stabilized apartments in his district, but too often he operates as a paid spokesman for REBNY and the real-estate industry,” said Delsenia Glover, a spokeswoman for Alliance for Tenant Power. “That’s why fed-up rent-stabilized tenants are coming together to shame him today online and target him at his office in Albany.”
“It’s time for Klein to stand up for stronger rent laws and stop shilling for landlords and developers who endanger affordable housing in his district and throughout New York,” she added.
Like other leading elected officials in the city and state, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, Mr. Klein has filled his campaign coffers with donations from the real estate industry. Critics of Mr. Klein, who identifies as a progressive, say he is too closely aligned with the Real Estate Board of New York, citing his robust defense of 421-a, a tax break granted to developers for building multifamily housing. The obscure abatement, which requires 20 percent of housing units to be affordable depending on the neighborhood where the development is constructed, has become controversial since a newly-completed luxury housing building in Manhattan, One57, secured large tax breaks without any affordable housing on site. (No developer breaking ground today in Manhattan can receive the tax break without building affordable housing.)
To critics, 421-a amounts to a massive, unneeded loophole for wealthy developers. The tax break cost the city about $1 billion in foregone tax revenue in 2013, according to the New York City Independent Budget Office.
Mr. Klein and real estate industry insiders argue affordable housing construction in New York City wouldn’t be possible without 421-a, and that the abatement is needed to offset a property tax system that favors single family homes and co-ops over condominiums. Backers of Mr. Klein point to his conference’s affordable housing platform–which calls for $250 million in state funding for the New York City Housing Authority, a plan to entice developers to make NYCHA repairs in exchange for upzoning on developments elsewhere, and subsidies and funds to encourage the building of housing for seniors and the disabled–as proof that he is in support of progressive housing priorities.
“Over the past months, Senator Klein championed tenants rights by releasing investigative reports on heat and hot water complaints and deplorable conditions in NYCHA developments,” said Candice Giove, a spokeswoman for Mr. Klein. “Senator Klein’s Invest NY policy also tackles critical tenant issues head-on to ensure that New York maintains and builds quality low- and middle-income housing for families.”
Ms. Giove also slammed a longtime tenant activist, Michael McKee, who leads Tenants PAC and has been at odds with Mr. Klein. (Ms. Glover, the ATP spokeswoman, said their organization “is completely separate and distinct from Real Rent Reform, a different campaign that includes Michael McKee and other tenant leaders. Today’s actions pushing Senator Klein to stand up for stronger rent laws were organized and executed entirely by Alliance for Tenant Power.”)
“You know that spring is coming when Mike McKee sends a group to distort Senator Klein’s sterling record on tenants rights,” she said. “Mike McKee is a sad, mean-spirited hack who has set the tenants’ movement back 30 years.”
But liberal groups have long been annoyed at Mr. Klein since his group of breakaway Democrats served in the majority for two years with the GOP, keeping Senate Democrats in the minority. Activists are planning to flood Mr. Klein with tweets ahead of an Albany rally today for stronger rent laws.
All rent laws are set to expire in June.
“Mr. @JeffKleinNY has received more than $1M from the #RealEstate industry. No wonder he’s on the Real Estate side NOT the tenant’s side,” Alliance for Tenant Power plans to tweet. “Senator @JeffKleinNY will always be on your side…if you’re a #RealEstate developer.”
Other Facebook memes, similar to the one displayed above, will mockingly accuse Mr. Klein of helping to turn rent-regulated apartments into luxury condos and “relieving” landlords of the “aggravation” of rent-stabilization since 2004, the year Mr. Klein was elected to the State Senate.
A spokesman for REBNY did not return a request for comment.
Updated to include additional comments from Mr. Klein’s spokeswoman and Ms. Glover.