Hochul Raised Big Bucks From Real Estate Moguls Before Housing Deal

A Sludge analysis found that New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has received at least $1.5 million from real estate industry donors since the start of 2023.

Hochul Raised Big Bucks From Real Estate Moguls Before Housing Deal
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul gives a speech on Jan. 31, 2023 in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is touting an agreement struck with the state’s legislative leaders on housing—long a thorny issue in state politics—that became law this week as part of the massive state budget bill. In appearances with other state Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and New York City Mayor Eric Adams, the governor called the new housing laws a “historic agreement” that strengthens protections for New York renters. 

The coalition Housing Justice for All, however, has blasted Hochul’s housing deal as a giveaway to wealthy real estate interests.

“Governor Hochul did not solve the housing crisis—instead she pushed through a housing deal written by the real estate industry to ensure they keep getting richer off the backs of hardworking tenants,” the group said in a statement. “Now, millions of renters across the state will struggle to keep a roof over their heads as rents and evictions continue to rise.” 

Housing Justice for All describes itself as “a statewide coalition of over 80 groups representing tenants and homeless New Yorkers, united in our fight for housing as a human right.”

Under the deal, real estate developers would benefit from a new tax credit, 485-x, for construction of apartment buildings where a percentage of units are reserved for lower income people at below market rents. Opponents have argued that the tax break is inefficient at building affordable housing at scale. The deal would also weaken a 2019 tenant protection law by allowing landlords to raise rents on rent-stabilized apartments more steeply in order to recoup renovation costs.  

Hochul’s Stadium Swindle
The New York governor’s billion-dollar subsidy deal for a new Buffalo Bills stadium could reward her husband—and is the latest example of the state squeezing the Seneca Nation.

Another measure, on “good cause eviction,” would protect some renters in New York City from being evicted for unpaid rent following an “unreasonable” rent increase or when a lease ends. Housing Justice for All’s analysis of the deal’s provisions on good cause eviction found that a series of exemptions added to the law could leave at least 3.4 million New York tenants unprotected, among other things. The exceptions include premises owned by a landlord who owns 10 or fewer units in the state, owner-occupied housing with no more than 10 units, units tied to employment contracts, and more. 

Since January 1, 2023, donors in the real estate industry—counting a selection of executives, employees, companies, and PACs—have given Hochul’s campaign at least $1.5 million, according to Sludge’s analysis of records from the New York State Board of Elections. The most recent available data only covers contributions through January 12 of this year. The overall amount given to Hochul since her last election by real estate interests is surely higher, as this tally focuses on major real estate firms and large donations from their executives, not counting various pass-through companies and other real estate companies that lobby state lawmakers.

Hochul has received more than 65 donations of the $18,000 state maximum from real estate industry donors and their households since her last election.

Hochul’s office did not respond to a request for comment on whether the large donations from her prior real estate industry donors affected the contours of the housing deal.

Hochul’s campaign for governor in 2022 was heavily funded by large donations from wealthy donors, according to a report from the nonprofit Public Accountability Initiative and other watchdog groups. Their post-election analysis found that real estate industry donors provided more than $9.1 million in campaign donations to Hochul, with dozens of real estate billionaires like Larry Silverstein and Steven Roth giving the then-maximum amount of $69,700 to her bid.

“We believe Gov. Hochul carried the real interest industry’s lines into negotiations—whatever they wanted, that’s what she negotiated for, with a lot of success,” Ritti Singh, communications organizer for Housing Justice for All, told Sludge. “She gave real estate everything they wanted in the housing deal in this year’s budget.”

Last summer, Jed Walentas, the current chair of the 501(c)6 nonprofit trade association the Real Estate Board of New York (better known as REBNY) and CEO of Two Trees Management, gave $18,000 to Hochul, as did his father David Walentas, the company’s founder. Other real estate donors who gave the maximum to Hochul’s campaign in 2023 include RXR Realty CEO Scott Rechler and Douglas Eisenberg, founder of A&E Real Estate Holdings, both of whom are REBNY members. Hochul received $18,000 from Related Companies CEO Jeff Blau, who is a member of REBNY, and his wife Lisa Blau, an investor and political donor.