REBNY in 2022

The nearly 126-year-old real estate lobbying group just got a good friend in Gracie Mansion, which might be why things are looking up this year


In January 2020, I donned a suit, knotted my tie and headed to the Midtown Hilton Hotel where my colleagues and I mingled with the high and low of the real estate industry, cradling an unspecified number of vodkas with cranberry juice, for what was then the 124th Real Estate Board of New York annual banquet, with a pretty sanguine read on the future to anyone who asked.

Twenty-twenty — as my colleagues and I confidently (some might say “glibly”) opined — was going to be an interesting year for REBNY. Just a few months earlier James Whelan had stepped in as the organization’s president. And, man, he had his work cut out for him!

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The previous year Albany lawmakers passed a raft of new legislation that terrified most landlords, including restrictions on raising rent. The city was setting new sustainability standards, the fixes of which would slice deeply into the bottom line. Politicians were publicly spurning donations from real estate professionals. Numerous people cutting into their rubber chickens at the REBNY banquet in January 2020 were openly worried.

Nobody had any idea just how good we had it.

Over the last two years REBNY has dealt with this completely new, utterly bewildering landscape, by keeping its attention focused on the biggest industry in the biggest city in the nation. No, REBNY can’t bring people back to offices. … But even while a sclerotic number of workers return to their desks, the value of real estate has (some would say miraculously) not collapsed on itself. Yes, retailers as-far-as-the-eye-can-see were forced to shutter during the pandemic. … But in the second half of last year there was data indicating that retail’s never-ending apocalypse was at long last turning a corner.

And while REBNY might not have ever seen eye to eye with the man running City Hall in 2020, as of 25 days ago they have what can safely be considered an ally in charge.

REBNY’s annual January banquet has not returned but there is a gathering set for June. But one of the things that we felt last year, and we continue to feel this year, is that it’s important to honor traditions even in the middle of a crisis. (Maybe especially during a crisis.) The REBNY banquet was a time to look at the issues that face an organization like REBNY and try to answer how they’re handling what is still the biggest industry in the biggest city in the nation.

This is one of the reasons why in addition to keeping our annual REBNY issue in January Commercial Observer partnered with REBNY on holding a virtual forum in February called, “Future of New York,” where many of the heavyweights of real estate, the city and the policy world can say before the whole industry what its priorities should be in the coming year. And it’s why we’ve assembled these stories.

CO’s Larry Getlen spoke to Whelan directly about a lot of the issues that will affect the organization in the coming year.

Aside from COVID-19 (which few people or institutions have much control over), the biggest question for REBNY will almost certainly be how it handles its relationship with the 110th mayor of New York, Eric Adams. CO’s Lauren Elkies Schram delved into the overwhelming optimism that the industry feels about Adams’ ascent.

One of the issues that developers have most gnawed their nails off over during the last few years has been the future of the 421a affordable housing tax incentive. Keeping some version of it has been a critical area of focus for REBNY. Celia Young looked at Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed tweaks to the law.

The environment is an ever-more important issue and dispelling the deficiencies of generations of buildings will mean different heating and electrical work, which will pose a significant expense for landlords. Mark Hallum wrote about how this issue will play out.

A bright spot of real estate since the pandemic started has been multifamily housing. And well before the start of the pandemic people said that the way to fix this problem is to simply turn the type of stock currently in overabundance (like, say, hotels) into housing. Adams has proposed turning vacant hotels into 25,000 units of affordable housing, in fact. Rebecca Baird-Remba looked into the feasibility of this.

Another bright spot of real estate has been industrial property — but the question of how the city is zoned for this is another thorny one that REBNY will no doubt be paying attention to in 2022. Aaron Short examined the matter as well as one of the city’s biggest (and most expensive) construction projects over the coming years: the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

And there was more that we wrote about, including REBNY’s efforts in proptech and the newest class of REBNY fellows.

Alas, we’ll have a little longer to wait for the REBNY banquet to come back in full regalia, but we’re taking a page from REBNY. We’re keeping our eyes on the biggest industry in the biggest city in the nation.