Liberal G.O.P.’er has ‘radical’ housing ideas

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | He wants to impose a moratorium on luxury development, toughen the state’s affordable-housing tax-break program, fund mass transit with a carbon tax, and even put an additional tax on apartments on high floors in luxury buildings.

But this is no insurgent democratic socialist. He’s Anthony Arias, the Republican candidate running against Democratic state Senator Brian Kavanagh in District 26, which covers Lower Manhattan, the Lower East Side, part of the East Village, Soho, Noho and parts of Brooklyn.

Arias, 28, a self-described “liberal Republican,” is founder of Sada Capital financial advisory firm. He is also president of the Greenwich Village – Chelsea Chamber of Commerce, and earlier this year joined Community Board 1. A New Jersey native, he has lived in the city seven years, the last three in FiDi.

The pro-choice, green-boosting candidate may seem like a Democrat in some ways, but Arias wants to pursue his policy goals through fundamentally Republican means, usually favoring incentives over regulation.

Rather than ban plastic straws, for example, why not offer a tax credit to businesses that use paper ones? Businesses that invest in energy-efficient lighting and appliances could get a discount on license renewals.

So long as policies aren’t causing “excessive taxes” and “over-regulation,” Arias says he likely supports it.

A centerpiece of his platform combines three of his priorities: limiting luxury development, incentivizing affordable housing, and funding storm-resiliency projects. Arias is proposing to replace 421-a, which offers developers an incentive to rent 25 to 30 percent of units in new residential construction at below-market rates, with a new “421-b” that would require 100 percent of units to be below-market rate for a project to receive the tax benefit.

The stringent new requirements, according to Arias, would slash the number of projects taking advantage of the tax break — and thus reduce the amount of revenue the city foregoes, which adds up to $1.4 billion a year, according to the Department of Finance’s Division of Tax Policy.

His idea is to take that additional revenue and place it in a “lockbox” to fund the “Big U,” a massive storm-resiliency infrastructure project designed after Hurricane Sandy as a 10-mile shoreline protection plan to safeguard Lower Manhattan from flooding.

Currently, none of the proposed “Big U” has been built and only a tiny portion, protecting the Two Bridges area, has even been completely funded. Last week, as reported by Curbed, the city scrapped 70 percent of a previous design for the East Side Coastal Resiliency project for a quicker but more expensive $1.45 billion plan. For the part of the project south of the Brooklyn Bridge, only $108 million so far has been earmarked.

“No more 80/20 or 75/25 right now,” Arias said, referring to the percentage breakdown often seen between market-rate and affordable units. “We have enough of that luxury stuff. Let’s just do 100 percent [affordable units].”

Arias also supports a tax on foreign nationals who buy up luxury units through shell companies — which has driven much of Manhattan’s luxury development boom. His tax attorney is still looking into how this could be targeted and whether it would be legal.

But perhaps Arias’s most Bernie-esque proposal is a tax on luxury units on buildings’ highest floors. This so-called “view tax” would raise revenue to protect ground-floor plebs from storm flooding, while also disincentivizing the practice of including empty floors in a luxury tower to boost the height of the pricey apartments at the top.

“We’re not saying we’re anti-development,” he argued. “It’s just we want the right kind of development, the right kind of gentrification. And in this case, we wanted to be focused on green small business and affordable spaces.”

Kavanagh’s office did not respond to requests for an interview about his views on Arias’s proposals. The senator was elected last year after spending a decade in the Assembly.

“Politics needs to come back and be more community-centric,” Arias said. “And it’s about time that our generation gets into office, too.”

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