New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021

HABITAT

NYC MAYOR'S RACE 2021: KATHRYN GARCIA

NYC Mayor's Race 2021: Kathryn Garcia

Habitat, the Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums and the Presidents Co-op and Condo Council interviewed New York City mayoral candidates about their thoughts on issues facing the co-op and condo community. These interviews were conducted prior to the June 2021 primary.

Mary Ann Rothman:
New Yorkers face many challenges, and for co-op and condo board members and owners, one of the most pressing is how to keep our homes affordable for the hundreds of thousands of people who own apartments in New York City. We've invited Kathryn Garcia to help us understand how she is thinking about this.
Kathryn Garcia has served for more than 14 years in city government taking on challenges, such as crisis management in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, and quickly creating an emergency food program that has delivered more than 200 million meals to New Yorkers in need during the COVID pandemic. She's chaired the Housing Authority and has been our Commissioner of Sanitation. Welcome, Commissioner Garcia, and thank you for coming to talk with us.

Kathryn Garcia:
Oh, I'm thrilled to be here. Thank you for having me.

Mary Ann Rothman:
We have a series of questions to ask you, absolutely focused on co-op and condo issues. Why do you think co-ops and condos are important to the fabric of New York city?

Kathryn Garcia:
Oh, co-ops and condos are absolutely critical for people who want to stay in New York, have a permanent home, build wealth. They are the backbone for middle-class homeowners in the city, and I have seen that during my tenure for the last 14 years in city government. They are, for most people in the city, the owned home that they can't afford.

Mary Ann Rothman:
Have you yourself ever lived in a co-op or condo?

Kathryn Garcia:
I have not lived in a co-op or condo. I've lived in my same house for the last 24 years.

Mary Ann Rothman:
In the city?

Kathryn Garcia:
Yes. I lived – I'm two blocks from my parents, my mother. I moved two blocks away in 1997.

Mary Ann Rothman:
Okay. As mayor, you will inherit a city that's on the leading edge of climate mobilization, but compliance is expensive. What will you do to help co-ops and condos meet the city's ambitious carbon neutrality goals?

Kathryn Garcia:
Climate change is coming. We saw this even last year, during the summer, when in Eastern Queens, there were so many trees down that people lost power for over a week during a heat wave in the middle of a pandemic. We have to be at the forefront of making changes so that we are prepared as a city for what is coming at us. But they are challenging goals for us to meet, and the city has to be a partner. It has to provide low-cost financing for co-ops and condos to meet these really ambitious goals. And they're interesting things we might be able to do in this sphere, like carbon trading, where it's easier for one co-op or condo to make a transition and go a little further and make that trade with another one, so that we're doing efficient spending and getting the result we want.

Mary Ann Rothman:
Thank you. Board members are confronted with a growing number of unfunded mandates, such as building facade maintenance, elevator control upgrades, fire safety, and emergency planning, energy benchmarking, signage requirements, and more. These competing requirements have impacted the cost of maintaining our buildings. What will you do as mayor to help co-ops and condos meet these multiple requirements? And what, if any additional mandates would you pursue?

Kathryn Garcia:
I do not have any additional mandates that I am thinking of pursuing at this moment, so you can take a sigh of relief. But this is where we need to be partnering with you so that we can make sure that some of these safety standards are put in place, and having a seat at the table as we put together new rules is really critical because we know that they have an impact directly on families. I know you want everyone to be safe, whether or not it's from impacts with facades or with elevators. We both have to work together to get this done and make it so that you can be in compliance with these rules, and that that's easy for co-ops and condos to do.

Mary Ann Rothman:
New York state and city are currently facing significant budget challenges fueled in part by reduced tax revenue. What is your plan to raise revenue?

Kathryn Garcia:
This is a moment where we actually have to thank the federal government. We have received billions and billions of dollars that are going to flow through the city and through the state, and gives us the time to make the adjustments to both regrow our economy so that we have revenue coming back in, but also really looking at our city services and ensuring we are providing them as efficiently as possible. Because we do need to make sure we have sanitation services and we have safety for all of our residents, and that our kids are all in school. We all fundamentally support those core fundamental city services, but we gotta make sure we're delivering them. When I was at DEP I cut a hundred million dollars out of the operating budget without impacting quality or reducing with even one layoff. It's possible to make the city work more effectively, but we do have the time right now to sort of get to a place where we will have more stability, because we are seeing so much federal money come into the city.

Mary Ann Rothman:
And final question, but a very important one for our members. For decades, co-ops and condos have asked for the same property tax treatment as other homeowners. How will your administration address the issue of property tax reform for our city?

Kathryn Garcia:
I know that the real challenge on property tax is how it's gotten so completely out of whack. The numbers are startling, and when I'm mayor, I'm ready to tackle the real fundamental underlying challenges – not, let's just make a little fix at the edges, but let's completely change it to make it fair. And what I'm thinking of is we need to look at what the market rate is across the board. So that is what I have proposed. And then make sure that we're giving credits for if you've been a long time resident, if you are an older adult: that you can see it on your tax bill. Everybody understands what is happening, and understands their bill. We also don't need to raise it every single year. My property taxes have been going up exponentially and I'm sure everybody else's have. You don't actually have to continue to raise the assessed value just because you can.

Mary Ann Rothman:
I like what I'm hearing. Have you seen the preliminary report of the advisory commission that was appointed just about two years ago?

Kathryn Garcia:
Great things in there, great things in there.

Mary Ann Rothman:
They hit on many of the points that you raised. I think it's an excellent step forward. In your administration, I look forward to working together with you to give us fair and easily understood property taxes for all New Yorkers.

Kathryn Garcia:
Yes, it's so crazy, right? We should actually understand what we're paying for.

Mary Ann Rothman:
Exactly. Is there anything else that you would like to add as you address our member co-ops and condos?

Kathryn Garcia:
First and foremost, I know how hard everyone in co-ops and condos work, how much time you put in as board members, keeping up with what's happening at the city level. But also the day to day maintenance that any building requires: checking the gutters, making sure the lawns get done, making sure that the garbage gets taken out. And particularly for small co-ops and condos, that's a lot of work that you take on because I know you want to protect your investment that you've made in the city of New York.

Mary Ann Rothman:
Thank you. Well, it's been a pleasure talking with you. We thank you for sharing your time with us. Thank you so much.

Ask the Experts

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