Sunday, September 15, 2013

Political Risk comes to Manhattan Real Estate

To paraphrase Exodus 1:8, now there arose a new mayor over New York who knew not Michael Bloomberg or Rudy Giuliani. With the reactionary Bill de Blasio becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee for mayor and the odds-on favorite to win the general election in November, the 20 years of progress New York City has made threatens to become undone. Simply put de Blasio is throwback to the truly horrible mayors New York had prior to 1993. Think "bungling" Bob Wagner, the limousine liberal John Lindsay, the hapless Abe Beame and de Blasio's idol, David Dinkins. The last, of course, served as Mayor during the nadir of New York City's modern history. What all of these past mayors had in common was that they turned the city's fisc over to the public employee unions and they let crime run riot. By 1990 most informed opinion believed that the purpose of city government was to manage decline, not to create the thriving city that New York is today.

To New Yorkers of today and for that matter the real estate investors of today, that history is only dimly recollected at best. Instead of rewarding success, de Blasio seeks to punish it with high taxes. Instead of building  on the school reforms of the past decade, de Blasio wants to turn the schools back over to the unions. Instead of managing the budget, de Blasio will reward his union backers with pay raises unrelated to productivity. Instead driving down the crime rate to make New York the safest big city in America, de Blasio would end the very successful stop, question and frisk policy of the Bloomberg Administration. Of course the initial victims will be the people of color that now support de Blasio.

What all this means is that real estate investors who now take New York's well run government for granted will have to price in higher taxes and a diminution of services. Given the heady values of Manhattan real estate all the risk appears on the downside. The same goes for the big office REITs with a Manhattan focus, Vornado, SL Green and Boston Properties. The only hope is that Republican Joe Lhota pulls off an upset.

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