Albany Agenda

Andrea Stewart-Cousins: Lawmakers still waiting on labor-developer deal on housing

The state Senate majority leader said the New York budget won’t be done by April 1.

State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins

State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins Rebecca C. Lewis

State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said that her chamber will vote on a budget extender on or before Tuesday next week, confirming that state leaders will not reach a deal to pass a new spending plan before the April 1 deadline as contentious issues like housing still remain unsettled.

“I think we’re at the middle of the middle,” Stewart-Cousins told reporters on Wednesday of the state of budget negotiations. She also said she doesn’t plan to keep her conference in Albany over the holiday weekend, indicating that a handshake agreement does not seem imminent. 

Housing remains one of the major issues that leaders need to agree on in budget talks, with Stewart-Cousins reiterating her commitment to a “holistic” package that includes both incentives for new developments as well as tenant protections based on the principles of “good cause” eviction legislation. “We are all on the same planet, we are all working towards trying to get that grand plan that will not only address affordability, but address the needs of supply as well as the needs of tenant protections,” Stewart-Cousins said, referencing an analogy that Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie used on Tuesday to describe the state of budget talks. She called housing “part of the constellation of things” that officials are trying to find solutions to when asked whether the issue would hold up passing a spending plan. 

Any housing package would include a replacement for the expired 421-a developer tax exemption program to incentivize the building of affordable housing in New York City. And any new program would require labor standards, which state leaders have asked the city’s trades and developers to strike a deal on. But the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York and the Real Estate Board of New York have reached an impasse after the labor group rejected a final proposal from developers for new labor standards that labor considered too weak. And eight of the unions that make up the Building Trades Council called on state lawmakers to step in and write strong wage requirements if REBNY doesn’t come back and agree to one of their compromises. 

Stewart-Cousins wasn’t ready to take that step on Wednesday, still deferring to the unions and developers to continue negotiating and strike their own deal. “It would be premature,” the majority leader said. She called herself an “optimist” and expressed confidence that the groups can come back to the table and agree to a deal. “I don't overreact to things in general, and I won't be overreacting to this,” Stewart-Cousins said. 

Heastie told reporters on Tuesday, before the latest statement from several construction unions asking for legislative action, that a housing deal wouldn’t get done without a wage deal struck by labor and developers. Stewart-Cousins on Wednesday wouldn’t say whether her chamber would be willing to pass one if such a deal isn’t in place. “I don’t have a hypothetical answer for you,” she said. “We’re trying to get to a deal, and I believe a deal is within our reach.”

State Senate Labor Chair Jessica Ramos told City & State that would “love” to write strong labor standards into law for a new tax incentive program. “If it was left up to me to write such an agreement, I hope they understand that the highest level of labor standards would be upheld,” Ramos said. But she wouldn’t say whether she’s pushing the leader to allow her and other lawmakers to write such standards themselves rather than wait for an outside deal.