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Groups say Hochul's plan for housing would help address high costs, lack of units

A white house has a for sale sign in front of it.
Brad Spelich
Two houses in a Syracuse neighborhood sit next to each other.

Groups in favor of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s ambitious plan to build 800,000 new housing units over the next several years met Tuesday at the state Capitol to show their support.

Hochul wants to reach that goal by giving each region of the state a minimum number of new housing projects that would need to be built over the next few years. More housing would be required in downstate regions than in upstate, where the population has not grown as much.

The state would pay for 100,000 of the housing units. The rest would be financed by developers, who would also have new incentives to convert unused office space into residential units and to build multifamily housing near public transit hubs.

Kate Slevin with the newly formed New York Neighbors coalition said it’s a “bold” plan that would help address the high cost of housing and the low number of available homes in New York.

“There needs to be a state leadership when it comes to addressing these problems,” Slevin said. “Municipalities really need to work with her and work with their leaders to ensure that the targets that she set forth are implemented.”

Hochul’s plan includes a carrot-and-stick approach. If local governments work toward their targets, they can receive state funding for infrastructure like sewers and water hookups, and some environmental review requirements would be waived. If they do not meet their goals, then the state would have the authority to override local zoning laws to ensure that the targets are met.

Local governments, including the New York State Conference of Mayors, oppose the state making changes to local zoning rules. In a statement, Executive Director Peter Baynes said the governor “mistakenly lays New York's housing shortage problem at the feet of local officials.” He added state government “cannot possibly know the needs and conditions of individual communities.”

Slevin said she knows the proposal will face blowback. But she said other states, including the bordering states of New Jersey and Connecticut, have already enacted similar plans and eased their housing shortages.

“These things are always controversial. It's going to be a debate, and it's going to be a lot of discussion,” Slevin said. “But we really want something to happen.”

Senate Housing Committee Chair Brian Kavanagh, who met with the group, said he’s very encouraged that Hochul is putting the focus on what he said is a critical need.

“The headline here is that we have a governor who has unequivocally said since the fall that it is the state's role to ensure that we have enough affordable high-quality housing for everybody,” Kavanagh said. “And that she as the governor is committed to working with us to deliver on that. And I think that's a very big step.”

Kavanagh said some of his colleagues have some skepticism about the state being able to override local government zoning rules, and those details will need to be worked out.

He said other components should also be part of a housing package, including strengthening the state’s rental assistance programs and passing a bill he sponsors that would provide housing access vouchers to those in need.

Kavanagh also backs the good cause eviction measure that would prevent landlords from refusing to renew a lease with a tenant unless they’ve committed a serious violation, like failing to pay rent or breaking the terms of the lease.

“I certainly expect that that is something that the Legislature will be bringing to the table if we're doing a comprehensive package in the budget,” he said.

Kavanagh does not think, though, that a program supported by developers, which provided a tax break for construction projects that include affordable housing, needs to be revived. The program, known as 421a, expired last year after the governor and lawmakers failed to agree on a new program. Hochul did not include a new version in her budget plan, and he says the Senate is not likely to do so.

The Legislature will hold a hearing to further examine the governor’s housing proposals on March 1.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment and interviews newsmakers. Karen previously worked for WINS Radio, New York, and has written for numerous publications, including Adirondack Life and the Albany newsweekly Metroland.