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The Weaponization of Construction as a Business Model

The weaponization of construction is the use of illegal construction to harass tenants out of their homes and deregulate housing units out of existence. It is not known how widespread this tactic is, but we do know that Jared Kushner’s development companies were using this in New York City as a means to make low income rent-regulated tenants leave their home. Not only that, but Kushner’s companies were caught falsely claiming that buildings they bought had no rent-regulated tenants, when in fact they had many. They were able to get rid of these tenants, raise the rent, sell the building and make a huge profit. The illegal construction and falsified documents are not a mistake for the Kushner companies: this was their business model.

The US is in the middle of a housing crisis, and few places are in more of a housing affordability crisis than New York City. When securing affordable housing is more important than ever, Kushner’s practices may have brought the overall number of state-reduced units across the city. Aaron Car from The Housing Rights Initiative and New York City council member Richie Torres are a part of an investigation uncovering the nefarious methods of kicking rent-regulated and many low income tenants out of their home. There is a pattern of lying, with over 80 falsified building permits over 34 properties in a timespan of four years. Practices like this pose a severe threat to the affordability of deregulated uses, which is the largest and most endangered sources of affordable housing.

How did falsified documents enable Kushner’s companies to push out tenants so quickly? The loopholes in rent laws allow landlords to raise the rent through capital improvements and some other activities. The weaponization of construction and falsified building permits worked hand in hand. The strategy was to use hazardous and destructive construction practices to replace low-income rent-controlled tenants with higher income tenants. While trying to push rent-controlled tenants out, the companies simultaneously reported not having any. As Jared Kushner was the owner of these companies during this time, it is hard to believe he was not aware of what was happening.

This instance is only a symptom of a much greater sickness. Why did these companies think they could get away with this, and seemingly not even be concerned if and when they got caught? Departments within the city were not cross-referencing the permits when the companies told one department that had rent-regulated tenants and other departments that they did not. Breaking down the silos between governmental departments is important for basic information sharing. The taxpayers are already paying for the services from these departments that protect the public. Enforcing what we already have on the books is the low-hanging fruit to prevent developers like Kushner from depleting our affordable housing even more.

The weaponization of construction is something many renters across the country have been enduring. Renters (and sometimes homeowners) are pressured to move so the valuable property they reside on can be redeveloped for a huge profit for developers. Have you ever experienced anything like this?