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Some New York communities are embracing governor’s “pro-housing” agenda

A "For rent" sign in Newburgh, New York, which recently declared a housing emergency after a study found its vacancy rate to be roughly 4 percent.
Jesse King
A "for rent" sign in Newburgh, New York. In December 2023, the Newburgh City Council met in a special session to unanimously pass a resolution declaring a housing emergency citywide, citing a study that found Newburgh’s net vacancy rate for apartments was just 3.9 percent.

Several local communities are embracing New York Governor Kathy Hochul's push to create affordable housing.

Last fall Hochul launched the “Pro-Housing Communities Program” to fast track $650 million in state discretionary funds to villages, towns, and counties that demonstrate a commitment to increasing housing inventory within their boundaries.

It came after her ambitious housing proposal to add 800,000 new units around the state fell apart at the end of the legislative session in June.

As part of her State of the State, Hochul proposed strengthening the program by making the certification a requirement for municipalities to access state discretionary funds. Earlier this month Hochul celebrated the certification of New York’s first 20 Pro-Housing Communities. "They're from Long Island, mid-Hudson, Central New York, Western New York, Mohawk Valley, Southern Tier, North Country and Capital Region. I think we have every area of our state represented," said Hochul.

New Lebanon is the first and only Capital Region community to make the initial 20. Since the pandemic, local businesses say can't find employees because people can no longer afford to live there. Town Supervisor Tistrya Houghtling says the need for housing for senior citizens and young working families has never been greater.

"So COVID definitely, made all of the housing in Columbia County increase, astronomically," Houghtling said. "Now if you're a homeowner, that's a good thing because your house is now valued more. But if you're a young family or a young person who grew up here that wants to stay here, it becomes really too expensive. I bought my house right before the COVID bubble hit. And I got into a house for $175,000 with three bedrooms on seven acres, that house would now be $400 or 500,000, which would be way out of the realm of affordability for younger working class families. So COVID had a big part of it. Our housing market went from, you know, over 50 homes on the market down to less than 10. And most of the ones on the market are up in the $500,000 and above range."

Houghtling says the first step is finding a developer who wants to partner with the town, who is willing to build affordable housing in a primarily agricultural community.

“We're not looking to make, you know, high rise apartments or a large development, so making sure that we partner with the right developer that wants to be in line with our comprehensive plan and our zoning. And then if we find a partnership, we could apply on behalf of the town or in partnership with the developer or just supporting the developer for applications through programs like New York Forward New York, Main Street, DRI Downtown Revitalization Initiative,” said Houghtling.

Democratic Kingston Mayor Steve Noble says his Ulster County city is also in line to receive grant funding. "Having people interested in wanting to develop here, and then having a higher chance of receiving grant funding, to be able to help build that housing, we feel like that's a winning combination," Noble said. "And it's going to allow us to hopefully attract the right kind of energy that we need to really deal with this housing crisis, which, for us, it's a supply issue, more people want to live in Kingston, and in our area, then we have housing, and so it's really risen prices, to unbearable levels for many of our folks. And so we think pro-housing is going to help us at least notify the world that we're ready for this development, excitement and energy."

Republican Binghamton Mayor Jared Krahamn says the program augments the Southern Tier city's pro-development focus, where housing projects are often approved in as little as 60 days as opposed to months or years in other municipalities.

"It was really easy for us to apply and to be the first city in New York state to receive this designation," Krahamn said. "What we had to do is early, early in the process, we adopted a resolution as a pro-housing community, saying that we were committed to building housing of all kinds. And we had to submit to the state some information about our zoning laws to ensure that we didn't have draconian zoning regulations. And then some data about housing that's been built in the city within the last few years. It's a pretty straightforward process. It was all through an online portal. And we were happy to jump on it."

Krahamn notes Binghamton's new designation is already opening doors.

"We've actually received inquiries from several housing developers who are just thinking about where they're going to cite their next project. And even in the site selection phase, this designation has put Binghamton on the map statewide in the big housing industry, as a place where it's easy to do business, where you're not going to get mired in red tape or regulation, and that things can happen quickly," said Krahamn.

More than 80 localities have started or completed applications for the program.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.