As the debate around Good Cause Eviction legislation heats up, a new report provides stunning new detail on the political influence that New York’s biggest real estate lobby organizations wield in Albany.
The report, from Housing Justice for All and LittleSis, looks at three major landlord groups who have opposed Good Cause – the Rent Stabilization Association (RSA), Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP), and the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) – examining how much these groups have spent to defeat tenant protections, including campaign contributions, litigation, and PR operations. It also digs into these groups’ claims to represent so-called “mom-and-pop” landlords, with new details that show small homeowners could power less of these groups’ revenue than they’ve represented.
“New York’s real estate industry has always been the biggest obstacle to winning meaningful protections for tenants, and this report finally puts a price tag on how much they’re willing to spend to preserve their own power,” said Cea Weaver, Campaign Coordinator for Housing Justice for All. “With evictions at record rates and rents skyrocketing, New Yorkers need help from Albany more than ever. Albany lawmakers must resist the siren song of real estate money and stand up for the tenants who are counting on them to deliver.”
The report finds that over the past four years, RSA, CHIP, and REBNY and the front groups they have supported have collectively spent almost a whopping $20 million battling pro-tenant legislation, spending nearly $8 million on lobbying from 2018-2021 and more than $2.3 million since 2018 on lawsuits to overturn rent control and tenant protections. PACs and Super PACs connected to RSA, CHIP, REBNY, and their board members, meanwhile, spent more than $8.8 million supporting New York State political candidates from 2018 through 2022.
It also includes extensive details on the composition of the boards of RSA, CHIP, and REBNY, finding that they’re led by some of the largest property owners in New York. While real estate entities notoriously hide their full portfolios, the report finds that the average portfolio size of CHIP, RSA, and REBNY board members is 7,405 units – far from the small property owners these groups say they’re fighting for.
Moreover, the report shows that a fraction of the revenue of one of these groups, CHIP, came from members, with the overwhelming majority coming from two events – even though the organization reports that it represents owners of 400,000 rent-stabilized apartments. In 2019, just 13% of CHIP’s revenue came from members, while more than half came from just two events, including a golf outing.
“This report details what tenants have known for too long: that wealthy elites from the real estate industry wield too much control over housing policy in Albany through big spending,” said Juanita O. Lewis, Executive Director of Community Voices Heard. “New York State’s elected leaders must focus on the housing needs of its people, not on increasing the profits of real estate moguls.”
Previous reporting has already shown that Homeowners for an Affordable New York, the lead group fighting Good Cause, is an RSA creation, well-funded enough to afford lobbyists to the tune of $1.4 million.
Finally, the report lays out the top recipients of real estate money in the legislature outside NYC, Hudson Valley, and the Long Island region: State Senators Tim Kennedy, Jeremy Cooney, and Bob Antonacci.
“This report shows the extent of wealthy landlords’ massive policy shaping effort, spending millions of dollars to set up phony front groups, dispatch an army of lobbyists, and flood the campaign accounts of lawmakers across the state,” said Robert Galbraith, a senior research analyst at the Public Accountability Initiative. “Public officials have a stark choice about whether they will prioritize the profiteering of New York City landlords over the needs of the tenants they represent.”
“This report demonstrates what we’ve known all along–wealthy and powerful real estate developers have been squashing policy that would provide safe, stable housing for New Yorkers who desperately need it. What’s worse, they’ve been doing it dishonestly, pretending to be “small property owners” and “mom and pop landlords” to give a veneer of legitimacy to their efforts to build even more obscene wealth on the backs of everyday New Yorkers. It’s time for the legislature to recognize these groups for what they are–cynical profiteers–and enact real, permanent tenant protections,” said Rebecca Garrard, Legislative Director at Citizen Action of New York.
“The New York City real estate lobby is spending enormous sums of money to buy upstate legislators’ votes. Upstate New York needs legislators like Senator Jeremy Cooney to stand with their constituents, not New York City billionaires. Every upstate legislator must return their real estate donations and sign onto Good Cause,” said Ritti Singh, Communications Coordinator with the City-Wide Tenant Union of Rochester.
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