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Gov. Hochul's State of the State includes ambitious housing plan, changes to bail reform

Darren McGee/Photo by Darren McGee- NYSDED
Gov. Hochul delivers her state of the state address in the assembly chamber Jan. 10, 2023.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul delivered her first State of the State message as an elected governor Tuesday. She outlined an ambitious housing program and expansion of mental health services, along with new public safety measures, including more changes to the state’s controversial bail reform laws.

Hochul quoting Eleanor Roosevelt and Francis Perkins, (FDR’s Secretary of Labor) gave her speech in a full New York State Assembly Chamber, reviving a tradition not used in over a decade.

Hochul held the speech in the chamber last year, after she replaced former Governor Andrew Cuomo, who resigned in disgrace. But it was virtually empty due to COVID-related restrictions. Hochul says while New York was once the epicenter of the pandemic, it now seems finally to be lessening. But it has left the state with many challenges.

“After three very difficult, tragic, painful years, I’m proud to say that the state of our state is strong, but we have work to do,” Hochul said. 

The governor outlined a plan, called the New York Housing Compact, to oversee the building of 800,000 new housing units over the next 10 years. She says housing construction in New York has not kept up with the 1.35 million new jobs created in the state in the past decade. The crunch is particularly intense in the New York City suburbs, where many people who have jobs in the state live in New Jersey or Connecticut instead.

Every locality in the state will be assigned a “new home (creation) target.” Downstate regions have a 3% target every three years, averaging to 1% a year, and upstate regions have a 1% target over the same time period. The plan includes rezoning to allow for multifamily units, splitting single-family lots into two, and rezoning some commercial areas into residential, including parking lots and underused shopping malls.

“Today, I say no more delay. No more waiting for someone else to fix this problem. Housing is a human right,” Hochul said to applause. “Ensuring enough housing is built is how we protect that right.”

If localities do not meet their targets, the state would step in and impose an expedited approval process, including shortcuts for environmental permits to developers who want to build in those areas.

The governor says a key component of the plan is reviving a tax break given to real estate developers who include affordable housing in their projects, known as 421a. The provision expired last year, after Hochul and the Legislature were unable to agree on a replacement. The governor says she’ll work with lawmakers to do that this year.

Hochul also told lawmakers that public safety remains her “number one priority.” The state’s crime rate was a major issue in the 2022 race for governor, which Hochul won by the narrowest margin in a generation. Her opponent successfully made an issue of the state’s higher crime rate and the recent 2019 bail reform laws, which ended most forms of cash bail.

Hochul is proposing more changes to the bail reform laws, which already have been altered twice. She would make it easier for judges to set bail for more serious crimes. She says she still stands by the principles behind the original law.

“Bail reform is not the primary driver of a national crime wave created by a convergence of factors, including the pandemic,” Hochul said. “The bail reform law as written now leaves room for improvement.”

Hochul also announced a $1 billion expansion of mental health services, including 1,000 more inpatient psychiatric hospital beds, and 3,500 more community-based residential beds.

She says it will be the biggest change since the deinstitutionalization of the state’s psychiatric hospitals in the 1970s.

The governor also announced plans to make child care more accessible and affordable, and she pledged not to raIse taxes. She earned a standing ovation when she proposed raising the state’s minimum wage.

“I’m proposing a plan to peg the minimum wage to inflation,” Hochul said.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie says he was pleased to hear Hochul address the “drivers of crime” instead of waiting until the moment that someone is arrested, and he likes the governor’s housing and mental health plans.

The Speaker says he has not yet examined Hochul’s proposal to amend the bail reform laws.

Heastie says he also backs the idea to increase minimum pay for New Yorkers.

“The fact that you really want to get out of this trying to fix the minimum wage every couple of years, I think it’s a solid approach,” Heastie said.

There are tensions, though, between the governor and Senate Democrats over her nominee for the next chief judge of New York state. Fourteen of them say they will vote against Hochul’s choice of Hector LaSalle, saying some of his opinions are too conservative. Hochul says she’s not backing down.

Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins did not comment after the speech.

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.