After accepting contributions from Glenwood, Assemblymember Braunstein is mum on 421-a

By LOUIS FLORES

The campaign committee of Assemblymember Edward Braunstein (D-Bayside) has accepted $38,100 in contributions from various limited liability companies, which roll up to Glenwood Management Corp., the controversial real estate developer at the nexus of a spree of political and campaign corruption cases rocking Albany.

Twelve limited liability companies made 13 contributions from 2010 through 2014 to Assembly Braunstein’s campaign committee, Friends of Edward Braunstein, a review by Progress Queens of the online records of the state’s Board of Elections show.

The large campaign contributions raise questions about how Assemblymember Braunstein will vote in this year’s battle by a fractured tenant advocacy lobby to defeat the 421-a tax abatement program.

Glenwood Management and its owner, Leonard Litwin, have wielded great influence over Albany officials given Mr. Litwin’s outsized campaign contributions.  Since 2013, Mr. Litwin has made millions of dollars in campaign contributions, becoming one of the state’s largest political donors.

Assemblymember Braunstein’s office did not answer requests made by Progress Queens for an interview for this article.

On the same day when the New York State Assembly passed a bill in 2013 grandfathering the projects of five real estate developers into the generous 421-a tax abatement program, Assemblymember Braunstein praised the tax break expansion, saying in a press release that, “This new and improved co-op and condo tax abatement will provide much-needed relief for hundreds of thousands of co-op and condo owners, many of whom are middle-class and seniors on fixed incomes.  I want to thank Speaker Silver and Mayor Bloomberg for working together to pass this progressive piece of legislation.”

Contrary to Assemblymember Braunstein’s characterization, the 421-a tax abatement program has been derided by tenant advocacy groups as woefully ineffective at creating affordable housing and too expensive for what results it has been able to achieve.

According to an analysis of records performed and published by The New York Times, 150,000 apartments qualified for the tax abatement in 2014.  However, of that number, fewer than 15 per cent. of the apartments were “considered affordable.”  The total price tag for this failed program :  approximately $1.1 billion in foregone property taxes per year.

The 421-a tax abatement program is set to expire on June 15.

The real estate industry, led by a lobbying group named the Real Estate Board of New York, or REBNY, favor renewing the 421-a tax abatement program, as does Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York) and Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-New York).

REBNY and its political action committee have made an additional $7,550 in campaign contributions to Friends of Edward Braunstein, according to state online campaign finance records.  Both Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo have also received large campaign contributions from the real estate industry. 

As reported by Progress Queens, the tenant lobby has become fractured from its original opposition to the renewal of the 421-a tax breaks as a result of the support expressed for the abatement program by Mayor de Blasio and his political supporters.

Besides leading to higher rents, greater gentrification, neighborhood displacement, and the loss of over $1 billion in property taxes that the city could use for numerous unfulfilled services, the tax abatement program has been linked to the corruption cases of Assemblymember Sheldon Silver (D-Lower East Side) and State Senator Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre).

The New York City Housing Authority, or NYCHA, for example, faces a capital improvement fund shortfall of $10 billion, whereas the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or MTA, faces a capital improvement fund shortfall of $14 billion.  According to an estimate released by Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, the cost of Mayor de Blasio's modified 421-a program will be $10 billion over 45 years.

Some advocacy groups see the 421-a tax abatement program as a failure and want it ended.

“The 421-a tax breaks are yet another mechanism for expanding gentrification and displacement in Queens,” said Marty Kirchner, an organizer with the Roosevelt Avenue Community Alliance, a group that is fighting gentrification, adding that, “The only real solution to New York City's housing crisis is more public housing.  Instead of tax breaks to the real estate industry, more money should be directed toward improving and expanding NYCHA.”