Adler & Stachenfeld’s YuhTyng Patka Carves a Lane in NYC Development Incentives

The attorney has also become an expert on real estate-related climate policy

reprints


In the niche world of New York City real estate tax law, attorney YuhTyng Patka is everywhere. 

Just look at the pages of this publication or other industry rags like Crain’s New York Business or Bisnow. Or maybe you’re a real estate broker, building owner or insurance industry pro who has been in the room where she has presented on Local Law 97, the New York City legislation that caps larger buildings’ greenhouse gas emissions and that is starting to take full, fine-levying effect. Or perhaps you’re one of the employees of the city departments of Housing Preservation and Development or Buildings who has liaised with her. She moves powerfully in this small corner of the world that has a big influence on New York City. 

SEE ALSO: Prologis Bullish on Data Centers and AI

“I wear a lot of niche-y hats,” Patka, 41, said, speaking modestly from her home in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in late June. “My name pops up when the question is asked, ‘Who the hell does that?’”

As a partner at Manhattan-based real estate law firm Adler & Stachenfeld, Patka is the resident expert on what she calls an “alphabet soup” of New York City tax incentive programs from 421a and its replacement 485x — two programs aimed at creating affordable housing by offering real property tax exemptions to developers — to the Industrial and Commercial Abatement Program (ICAP) and the Industrial Development Agency’s Payment in Lieu of Taxes program (IDA PILOT). She advises building owners on how to minimize their property tax burden, represents developers when applying for tax incentives, and still makes time to be a mentor, an avid runner, and a present mother of two elementary-age daughters. 

While her work might seem enough to make your head spin, Patka speaks to clients, industry experts and journalists alike with ease and clarity about topics that could easily come off as onerous or dull. It’s that demeanor that wins her repeat clients and has helped her rise to the top in her specialty.

Max Nipon, principal at ground lease financing firm Montgomery Street Partners, has worked with Patka since 2021, two years after she joined Adler & Stachenfeld (then Duval & Stachenfeld).

“Tyng has this amazing demeanor about her where she can be straightforward and direct, but the delivery can still come off whimsical and fun and energetic and entertaining,” Nipon said. “It’s pretty remarkable how she can walk that line, especially in an industry that can be kind of ruthless and challenging.”

A young woman's face.
Paul Quitoriano/for Commercial Observer

YuhTyng “Tyng” Patka is a first-generation American, the daughter of two immigrants from Taiwan who planted themselves on Long Island in 1987. Growing up, she was, in her words, “just a nerdy little kid with glasses whose nose was always buried in a book” from the Sweet Valley High or Baby-Sitters Club series.

Unlike other high-achieving young people, Patka didn’t always dream of her future profession. In fact, she wasn’t even sold on being a lawyer when she entered Hofstra University Law School in 2004, after earning her bachelor’s from Cornell University in policy analysis and management. 

“When I went to law school, I still didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up,” she said. “Having been raised in a very traditional Asian household, the options are either doctor or lawyer.” 

She chose law because she thought it offered more career opportunities — plus it was only three years of postgraduate studies. While at law school she got a gig as a summer associate at Jaspan Schlesinger Hoffman (now Jaspan Schlesinger Narendran) on Long Island, cycling through departments and “trying everything on for size,” she said. Patka found that she could be helpful in the tax certiorari department. She even liked the work.

Patka came on as an associate attorney at JSH and stayed until 2011, working on property tax appeals on Long Island. Seeking that needle-in-a-haystack job in her niche in New York City, Patka came across a Monster.com job posting for a role at Tuchman, Korngold, Weiss, Liebman & Gelles (now Tuchman, Weiss, Liebman & Lindemann), where she spent the bulk of her eight years working on the firm’s proceedings practice that dealt with the Division of Housing and Community Renewal, the state agency that oversees rent stabilization as well as its tax certiorari and tax incentives practice.

But Patka wanted to start her own practice, and she had her sights set on Adler & Stachenfeld. She liked the culture, she said, and she liked that Terri Adler, the firm’s managing partner, was also a working mother of two. 

The admiration went two ways.

“I saw somebody who was eager and who was clearly very smart,” Adler said. “And, for me, I like people who are intellectually curious and intellectually fearless. I like people who aren’t daunted by something they’re not familiar with — something that’s a little scary — and who, when they’re not really comfortable, do it anyway. And that’s what I saw in her.” 

Patka was brought on as a partner in April 2019 in order to give her gravitas in building a new tax certiorari and incentives practice. Now she chairs that as well as the NYC Climate Mobilization Act Task Force and the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Financing practice.

She’s been at work advising clients like Montgomery Street Partners and Rose Associates on 421a, and other clients on 485x, which state lawmakers adopted in April. Planned and prospective residential developments throughout the city were put on hold when 421a expired in June 2022, Patka said, and in many ways the introduction of 485x warrants a sigh of relief from her clients.

“For the most part, they’re just happy that there is something, because for the last two years they’ve been operating under the unknown,” she said, “They’ve been frozen in place because they don’t know what the program, if any, would look like.”

What 485x offers is a framework for moving forward, even if it’s not always helpful. A construction wage requirement, as well as lower affordability thresholds, notably caused concerns over the future of Two Trees’ River Ring project slated for Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Patka said she’s heard developers are decreasing project sizes to 99 units in order to skirt construction wage requirements that kick in on projects of 100 units or more. 

Patka also advises clients like RXR on 467-m, a new commercial conversion tax exemption program that requires 25 percent of units to be affordable in perpetuity. She thinks it has the potential to spur housing creation, and is advising owners of more than 4.6 million square feet of office space that could be converted. 467-m has its naysayers, too. Metro Loft eschewed the incentive at its conversion of Pfizer’s former Midtown headquarters in favor of building 100 percent market-rate units after deciding the finite tax exemption didn’t make sense with the permanent affordability requirement.

But this alphabet soup of programs is certainly hearty fare for developers in the five boroughs.

“It is definitely a very exciting time to be in New York City development right now, because there are so many new tools being added to the toolbox all at once,” she said.

Patka is also the firm’s expert on Local Law 97, which went into effect Jan. 1 and caps carbon emissions of buildings of 25,000 gross square feet or larger. Patka said the regulation means additional costs for many building owners, which she suspects will get handed down to tenants. Lenders, she said, have been casual about it, because they see the cost as the borrower’s burden. She’s been on the talking circuit for five years speaking to all corners of the real estate industry about the law, and still finds building owners who are unaware or misinformed about its implications.

“I don’t really think the real estate community is going to fully understand until at least the first year,” she said, “until we get the first tranche of penalties on buildings to wake building owners up about what it means to your pocketbook if you ignore it.”

Patka speaks passionately about what she does, but particularly about her mentorship work. Looking back on her career, she said she felt she lacked a strong female mentor in the legal field, so she said she does her best to step in and fill that hole for other young female and minority lawyers. 

“Our firm has a mentorship program so I have several associates that I formally mentor, but  I informally mentor any and all associates that come to me,” she said.

Patka is also part of the Urban Land Institute mentorship program and of Hofstra Law’s Diversity Mentorship Program, and is a founding member of Adler & Stachenfeld’s DEI committee. She also just co-founded a local chapter of Girls on the Run, a national nonprofit that trains girls in third through eighth grade over the course of eight weeks to run a 5K race. Patka said she’s particularly proud of her work with Girls on the Run because throughout her life she’s found so much solace in running.

“I want to impart that sense of belonging, community, self-accomplishment and self-worth to girls at a young age,” she said.

Patka is self-assured enough to have created that feeling of self-worth for herself, even in a very precise professional specialty. “I am one of a small handful of attorneys in the city of New York that does what I do. I’m also further unique in that there’s even fewer women and even fewer women of color — or any attorneys of color — that do what I do,” she said. “I like to think of myself as a trailblazer. Hopefully I inspire a new generation of attorneys to do what I do.”