Of the $19,000 in donations to 14 sitting council members or candidates, $13,900 comes from Taxpayers for an Affordable New York, run by the Real Estate Board of NY. Another $4,600 comes from Rent Stabilization Association’s PAC, and $500 from the Neighborhood Preservation Political Action Fund, which appears to be linked to an RSA staffer.
Political action committees (PACs) representing some of the city’s biggest landlord and real estate groups have donated to just over a dozen City Council members and candidates so far this election cycle, including Speaker Adrienne Adams, a City Limits review of PAC spending found.
Early voting is underway in the primary election, where candidates in two dozen races are vying for Council seats for rare two-year terms, thanks to redistricting. Primary Day is Tuesday. The General Election is scheduled for Nov. 7.
Of the groups’ $19,000 in donations to 14 sitting council members or candidates so far, $13,900 comes from Taxpayers for an Affordable New York, a PAC operated by the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), which represents some 15,000 building owners, developers and brokerage firms across the city.*
Another $4,600 comes from RSA PAC, run by the Rent Stabilization Association, which advocates for owners of rent-regulated properties. An additional $500 comes from the Neighborhood Preservation Political Action Fund, which appears to be linked to an RSA staffer.
While hot-ticket policies like good cause eviction protections for unregulated renters are the state’s purview, the City Council holds sway in other ways: Council members can push for—or stymie—legislation to support tenant lawyers and public and democratically controlled housing, and get a binding vote in approving rezonings and other land use applications.
Over the last several years, some candidates running for local office have publicly eschewed campaign contributions from the real estate industry, citing the outsized role the sector plays in a city of renters.
“Half of New York households can’t afford to make ends meet. But landlords and real estate interests are continuing to push rents beyond what people can actually afford,” said Divya Sundaram, the New York City organizing director for the Working Families Party, which has long pushed candidates to reject campaign funds from real estate interests.
“We already know that real estate has the ear of Mayor Adams,” she added. “So that’s why it’s so important that we have City Council members that we can rely on who will actually have the back of tenants and defend constituents who are seeing, in some cases, double digit rent increases.”
But the political winds around real estate support have begun to shift more recently in other ways: Some Council members have faced backlash for opposing new development in their districts as the city struggles with a dire affordable housing shortage.
PAC contributions are limited under the city’s campaign finance law: they can donate a maximum of $1,050 to candidates participating in the city’s matching funds program, and $1,600 to those who aren’t.
Several council members who have received money from these PACs are not facing a challenge in the upcoming June 27 primary election. They include Speaker Adams, Democrats Raphael Salamanca who chairs the Land Use Committee, Kamillah Hanks, Justin Brannan, Nantasha Williams, James Gennaro, Oswald Feliz, Francisco Moya and Eric Dinowitz, and Republican Vickie Paladino (both Paladino and Brannan are expected to see at least one opponent in the general election this fall).
Candidates in the donation pool with an active primary race include incumbent Democrats Marjorie Velazquez and Kevin Riley, as well as Democrat Wai Yee Chan, who is running for a new district seat in Southern Brooklyn. Kalman Yeger is a sitting Democrat in the council, but is running as a Republican in the primary.
In a statement to City Limits, RSA President Joseph Strasburg said the organization “supports candidates who are sensitive to both sides of the aisle when it comes to affordable housing issues—and who understand the struggles of building owners and recognize the value in bringing the largest providers of affordable housing to the table to collaborate on real solutions.”
RSA—alongside another property owner trade group, Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP)—is currently attempting to dismantle New York’s longstanding rent stabilization law, which limits rent increases and ensures leases for tenants across about 1 million regulated apartments in New York City.
The two groups asked the U.S. Supreme Court last month to consider striking down the law, citing 2019 reforms they argue imposed harsh restrictions on property owners, limiting them from raising rents enough to keep their buildings maintained.
Whether the justices will consider their case remains to be seen. In the past, the Supreme Court has upheld rent stabilization, including in a unanimous 1992 decision in a case called Yee v. Escondido. But recent Supreme Court decisions have taken a broad view of unconstitutional meddling in property rights.
Although the legal challenge is playing out in federal court outside of the Council’s purview, any change to rent stabilization would have a dramatic impact on the city, where low-cost apartments are few and far between.
Constituents will be looking to their Council members for help if CHIP and RSA succeed, according to Esteban Giron, an organizer with the Crown Heights Tenant Union.
“I don’t think council members are at all well-versed at what’s going on [there]. It’s not in their wheelhouse,” Giron said. “But I do think that they need to be, and certainly there are things they can do to minimize the damage,” such as more robust funding to tenant lawyers in housing court.
Speaker Adams received $1,600 from Taxpayers for an Affordable New York in January, and $500 from RSA’s PAC last September. A $1,050 donation from Taxpayers for an Affordable New York in April 2022 was promptly returned, records show.
Her campaign point of contact did not respond to requests for comment. Nor did representatives for Salamanca, Feliz, Hanks, Brannan, Williams and Paladino. A representative for Gennaro could not be reached.
Taxpayers for an Affordable New York sent $1,050 each to Dinowitz, Hanks, Williams, Feliz, Moya and Gennaro, plus $1,600 to Salamanca and $250 to Brannan. Gennaro also received $1,050 from RSA PAC, while Paladino got $500. Salamanca got an additional $500 from Neighborhood Preservation Political Action Fund.
A Dinowitz spokesperson did not reference the PAC donation directly in a statement, but said the councilmember “will always put his constituents first and will remain committed to standing up to large real estate corporations to deliver a more just and affordable city.”
Matt Rey, a campaign spokesman for Moya, referenced the Council member’s support for a planned soccer stadium in Willets Point with accompanying apartments, saying the incumbent “has fought for tenants throughout his career and is working to bring a record number of truly affordable housing units to his district.”
Moya also earned the support of the Tenants Political Action Committee, which hasn’t donated campaign funds this election cycle but has endorsed 20 candidates “who have shown themselves to be supportive of key issues for tenants on the city and state level,” Michael McKee, the group’s treasurer, said in a statement.
Taxpayers for an Affordable New York sent $1,050 to Velazquez, $1,000 to Riley and $1,050 to Chan. Velazquez also got $1,000 from RSA, while Riley got $500.
Yeger received $1,600 from Taxpayers for an Affordable New York in January, $550 of which he returned. He returned the bulk of a $1,600 RSA donation in December, but kept $1,000 from July.
Of the Council members in active primaries only Velazquez, who is running to keep her Northeast Bronx seat, responded to a request for comment.
A campaign spokesperson said the councilmember is a “strong supporter of making housing more affordable and protecting both tenants and homeowners.” They touted last year’s Bruckner Boulevard rezoning, which the councilmember initially opposed but which ultimately passed with set-aside apartments for seniors and veterans.
*This story has been updated with additional details provided after publication from the Real Estate of New York (REBNY ), which says it is the sole force behind the Taxpayers for an Affordable New York PAC, according to a spokesperson. The PAC is a separate entity from another group by a similar name, Taxpayers for an Affordable New York Inc., the spokesperson said, which was formed to lobby around state rent regulation reforms and included REBNY and additional real estate interest groups RSA, CHIP, and Small Property Owners of New York.