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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

New group to raise money and back pro-housing candidates in New York

The Brooklyn Tower, left, in downtown Brooklyn, on March 13, 2024. Housing advocates in New York have created a super PAC that aims to spend tens of thousands of dollars to help elect political candidates who welcome development in their districts. (Karsten Moran/The New York Times)

By Mihir Zaveri

Housing advocates in New York have created a super political action committee that aims to spend tens of thousands of dollars to help elect political candidates who welcome development in their districts.

The group will also seek to defeat candidates it believes are not doing enough to support housing construction.

The super PAC, Abundant New York, is the electoral arm of Open New York, a nonprofit group formed in 2016 that advocates more development. The PAC is a more aggressive attempt by the group to make politicians feel consequences for not doing enough to address a worsening housing crisis.

The formation of Abundant New York comes as a housing shortage continues to fuel an affordability crisis both in New York City and across the state. Both Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams are attempting to pass legislation that would make it easier to develop, after lawmakers in Albany failed to push through major housing legislation last session.

The problem remains dire: A recent New York City housing survey found that in 2023, only 1.4% of homes were available to rent, the lowest such number in more than 50 years. The vacancy rate was even lower for cheaper apartments.

The creation of Abundant New York is also another sign that housing politics in the state are shifting. Blocking development used to be an easy political win in some neighborhoods, where residents, worried about the changes that come with more density, are often able to organize quickly to lobby local politicians to preserve the status quo.

But two New York City politicians recently created a new “league” of pro-housing officials to support the construction of more apartments.

And Annemarie Gray, the executive director of Open New York, said that to earn Abundant New York’s support, politicians must be in favor of both market-rate and affordable housing development.

They would also have to support better tenant protections, such as a contentious “good cause eviction” bill that would restrict landlords’ ability to remove tenants.

She said she expected the PAC to raise and spend “six figures” on city and state elections this year, although she declined to provide specific numbers. She said the plan was to raise and spend several million dollars over the next several years.

The super PAC, formally known as an independent expenditure committee, was not allowed to raise money until its official creation, which took place Monday. Gray said the group would not take any money from the real estate industry but would target a “diverse donor network” of individuals. Open New York raised more than $600,000 in contributions and grants in 2022, according to the group’s financial records.

Super PACs tend to focus on the state’s most competitive races. An analysis of 2022 election spending from the Brennan Center for Justice found that 70% of state Assembly and Senate races did not have any independent expenditures and only 24 races had independent expenditures totaling more than $100,000.

“If you’re serious about solving New York’s housing affordability crisis, we will support you,” said Gray, a former adviser in City Hall. “And if you’re standing in the way, we’ll hold you accountable.”

The group will support incumbents who have both primary and general election challengers. It may also oppose incumbents in primaries if the group decides they are not doing enough to make way for more housing.

Among the candidates who may get support from Abundant New York this year are state Sen. Rachel May, D-Syracuse, who will face at least one challenger from the right; Micah Lasher, a former adviser to Hochul who is vying with several other Democrats to represent the Upper West Side in the Assembly; and Sarahana Srestha, a democratic socialist who represents parts of the Hudson Valley in the Assembly and faces a primary challenge.

Srestha said she would appreciate the support from Open New York and said she was in favor of building more housing aimed at all income levels, something left-wing Democrats like her have not always supported.

“What’s good about Open New York is they are interested in the whole package of tenant protections and ‘what kind of housing are we talking about,’” she said. “It’s not a simplified conversation about just ‘more housing everywhere.’”

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