First-Year Grades for REBNY Chairman William Rudin

William Rudin has been REBNY chairman for the past year. How has he done?

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Given William Rudin’s 30 years of service to the Real Estate Board of New York, it was inevitable, once he’d won the board’s highest award for lifetime service, that he would be pressed into service as the organization’s chair. Now, as the first year of his three-year term comes to a close, let’s bring out the No. 2 pencils and see how the CEO and co-chairman of Rudin Management has done.

SEE ALSO: REBNY Takes on Real Estate’s Diversity Problem

Diversifying the Economy: A+

“Diversifying the city’s economy” was a stated intention of Rudin’s when he took the chairman’s post on Jan. 1, 2018. In a city where Wall Street employment has been flat and the biggest jump in hiring has been in home health care aides, last quarter’s news that tech behemoths were expanding in New York City was a big win. E-commerce giant Amazon announced in November 2018 that it would lease 1 million square feet in Long Island City, Queens; that plan could bring some 25,000 jobs to the city. Google plans a similar expansion, which could add 12,000 new workers, according to The Wall Street Journal. Mary Ann Tighe, a REBNY board chair emerita herself, noted that Rudin is “making sure that our real estate serves this industry; he knows the nature of the product that the [tech] industry needs.” The tech-friendly Rudin also inaugurated REBNY’s PropTech challenge, a hackathon for developers serving the real estate industry.

Mobilization of REBNY Membership: N/A

Rudin is leading REBNY to work with the City Council on the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA) “to voice opposition to the ill-advised attempt to create commercial rent control,” he said. The act, which would force landlords to offer certain long-standing commercial tenants lease renewals, is opposed by REBNY on the grounds that it limits landlords’ freedom and also will not solve the problems driving retail vacancies. In a flexing of membership muscle, more than 100 REBNY members showed up to an October 2018 City Council meeting on the act, many wearing caps that said, “vote NO Commercial Rent Control.” It’s too soon to give Rudin a grade—although he’s on the right side of the issue, according to real estate pros, unions and business improvement districts—as SBJSA’s fate remains uncertain.

Listing Syndication: B

“In the residential community, we’ve had a difficult year,” noted Diane Ramirez, the chairman and CEO of Halstead Real Estate and a member of REBNY’s executive committee alongside Rudin. “Residential wants their voice, and they want to be heard. Bill’s the perfect leader because he’s solutions-oriented, he listens, and, because of his background and his family’s background, he’s always had to deal with residential.” The accomplishment on the residential side has been the one-year anniversary of syndication of the Residential Listing Service—an attempt to take REBNY’s listing data and pipe it out in one clean feed to member brokerages as well as direct-to-consumer portals like nytimes.com and realtor.com. Streamlining the system, which Rudin said “empowers brokers and salespeople,” has involved a lot of behind-the-scenes tinkering to make sure that duplicative or inaccurate listings did not pop up. Adding in a help desk along with the planned rollout of a new compliance system and RLS, Ramirez noted, “is what we’ve needed for years, and it’s happening.” The good-but-not-perfect grade reflects the fact that the RLS is a work-in-progress, and that some consumer-facing portals, notably Zillow’s StreetEasy, have declined the RLS feed in favor of using data obtained from side agreements with New York City brokerage firms. The RLS is better and cleaner than it was when it was rolled out, but it is not yet poised to unseat StreetEasy.

Riding the Blue Wave: C

REBNY, like many other lobbying organizations, likes to back winners, and so the organization scrambled to be on top of the populism of New York State’s 2018 elections, which saw the fall of the Independent Democratic Caucus, a group of breakaway State Senate Democrats who had been quite friendly to the real estate industry.  The IDC formally disbanded in April 2018, just ahead of six of its eight members losing their primary challenges to other, more progressive Democrats. State Senators Jeff Klein, Marisol Alcantara, and Tony Avella, among others, lost despite financial backing from the REBNY political action committee. Overall, while the PAC, perhaps reading the writing on the wall, tilted spending more towards Democratic candidates than it had previously, according to a post-primary election analysis from amNewYork, it spent 42 percent less in the 2018 election cycle than in the 2016 election cycle, after having raised 18 percent less funds.

Garment Center Rezoning: A

In 1987, when nearly 61,000 people worked in the garment center, a zoning district was created to slow the then-conversion of spaces to offices in order to help protect those manufacturing jobs. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. As Rudin noted, “the zoning didn’t do anything positive, and Garment District employment has decreased by 88 percent.” As a response to the zoning, which Tighe called, “vestigial—the bulk of fashion industry manufacturing has left the garment center, let alone New York City,” and taking into account the garment center’s proximity to Hudson Yards, REBNY has backed zoning changes to allow the area’s use by a greater variety of businesses while providing tax breaks for landlords that set aside large spaces for garment manufacturers. The changes, approved last month by the City Council, “will allow great old buildings to get renovated and provide spaces for tech companies and media companies,” Rudin said.

What’s next?

We’re going to focus on Congestion Pricing in 2019,” Rudin said. “We’ll have discussions about NYCHA [the scandal-ridden New York City Public Housing Authority], how to get public housing into a state of good repair. We’ll focus on affordable housing and market housing; we need market housing to fund the city and its teachers and its firemen and women.”

Tighe, for her part, thinks Rudin is the right person to navigate the uncertain economic and political environment. “If you think about it for just a few minutes, this is the role that Bill was born to play, literally,” Tighe said. “The Rudins are one of the great old families of New York and their involvement with REBNY and the city goes back generations. But he also brings something special, a mixture of gravitas and likability. Everybody knows Bill, everybody likes Bill.”

Editor’s Note: Alison Rogers is a residential real estate broker and a member of REBNY, as well as a stockholder in Zillow.