Editorial: Stop the suburban fear-mongering

Editorial: Stop the suburban fear-mongering

Nassau County’s three town supervisors came together last week at a press conference in Manhasset to oppose Gov. Hochul’s plan to add 800,000 new housing units across New York State in the next decade.

Hochul’s plan calls for every town, village and city in the state to set a target number of new homes to be built over a three-year period in an effort to combat the state’s housing shortage.

The plan places a particular emphasis on transit-oriented housing in Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties that have lagged behind other U.S. suburbs in approving new housing.

The potential benefits of this approach include greater use of public transit, reduced car traffic and greater housing choices, according to research published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

But the town’s three town supervisors, all Republicans, don’t agree with Hochul’s plan.

“We’re here to express our outrage at Gov. Hochul’s attempt to take the suburban dream and turn it into an urban nightmare,” Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin said.

For those keeping score at home, this is the fourth time in the past year that Nassau Republican county officials have said that the suburban dream was threatened by some state action.

1) The first time was in February when Hochul proposed legislation to require municipalities to allow a minimum of one accessory dwelling unit on all owner-occupied residential zoned lots in an effort to add 100,000 housing units.

2 The second came in June when two Democratic legislators from the suburbs proposed that local town and city elections outside of New York City should be held in November in even-numbered years.

3) The third claim was made in response to the MTA’s congestion pricing plan for Manhattan followed by Hochul’s plan for more housing.

Then President Trump used a similar appeal during the 2020 political campaign when he said he would preserve the “Suburban Lifestyle Dream” by opposing low-income housing in all suburban neighborhoods.

His idea of the suburban dream, at least, appeared to rule out multi-family housing and, by inference, black and brown people.

But the claim that more transit-oriented housing would be the end of suburban living does not hold water.

Developers and government officials of both parties have long advocated building multi-family housing units near LIRR stations to retain downtown business districts.

And the 3% increase in housing called for by Hochul in Nassau would hardly endanger its suburban lifestyle unless you buy Trump’s definition.

Free-standing, single-family homes account for 75% of the housing stock in Nassau – the third highest rate among counties in the New York metropolitan area behind sparsely populated Pike County in eastern Pennsylvania and Suffolk County.

By comparison, in Westchester County single-family homes make up only 44 percent of the housing. In Bergen County, N.J., across the Hudson River from New York, that share is 52 percent. In Fairfield County, Conn., the single-family share is 57 percent.

Are people in Westchester, Bergen and Fairfield Counties not also living the suburban dream?

They maintain their suburban lifestyle while accepting mixed-use town centers, subdivisions of attached town homes and apartment blocks

If the three Nassau town supervisors have an alternative to transit-oriented housing to address the shortage, we’d like to hear about it.

Otherwise, they are merely calling for the county to raise the gangplank and leave the state’s housing problem to everyone else.  This is a bad idea.

Nassau and Suffolk have trailed the rest of the metro area in creating new homes.

Among 32 counties in New York City and its suburbs, Suffolk ranked 32nd and Nassau ranked 31st in the number of housing permits issued from 2010 to 2020, according to a Regional Plan Association report last year.

This is at a time when New York leads the nation in population loss as Texas and Florida gain.

New York had both the greatest sheer population loss of about 180,000 people and relative population decrease of 0.9 percent last year. Comparatively, Texas led the nation in population gained at about 471,000 and Florida led the nation in relative population increase of 1.9%.

This kind of population loss emerged as one of the top issues during the gubernatorial campaign. U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-Long Island, who like many other Republicans attributed the exodus to high taxes, increasing government regulation and spiking crime rates.

“Gov. Hochul and elected officials should look at it as the ultimate job-performance barometer,” Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, a Republican, said during the campaign. 

State Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, also a Republican, said “the greatest threat to New York State and our future viability is the loss of human capital.”

We agree.

What the Republican leaders did not mention was the possibility that the state lacking a place to live for 800,000 families and individuals might be playing even a small role in the state’s loss of population.

But this scarcity of housing can be seen in raised rents and housing prices across the area, making places like Nassau too expensive for first-time home buyers and difficult for people looking to downsize who continue to live here.

“Hochul has noted the state has created 1.2 million jobs in the past decade but built only 400,000 new housing units,” Newsday reported. “More than half of renters statewide pay 30% or more of their income toward rent. On Long Island, home prices set records last summer, while the number of homes for sale remains close to the lowest it has been in at least 20 years.”

The lack of housing has also contributed to homelessness in the city and made it more difficult to staff businesses in Nassau.

The three supervisors also cited the loss of local control sought by Hochul.

Under this Hochul’s plan “New York State would be given a new power that would allow bureaucrats to unilaterally rezone suburban neighborhoods,” North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena said. “This proposal threatens to severely impact the quality of life of other communities.”

DeSena is correct that Hochul is calling on the state to take control of some zoning decisions.

If localities don’t meet a goal of a 3% increase in housing over three years and don’t take certain steps to remedy the issue, developers could appeal to a proposed State Housing Approval Board under her plan.

At that point, the state could greenlight mixed-income, multifamily proposals even if they don’t meet local zoning standards. Municipalities would have to object for health or safety reasons to defeat an appeal.

But DeSena’s alternative appears to be more of the same.

Zoning decisions at the moment are under the control of towns and villages.

While there may be many benefits to additional housing, the officials in the towns and villages answer to homeowners who now live there and actually benefit in the form of higher home values from the housing shortage.

The state asserting some control would add some balance to local zoning decisions. It is also not without precedent.

The state-mandated 2% cap on annual increases of local government tax levies has been wildly popular in Nassau even though it ties the hands of local officials in setting budgets.

There is a housing shortage in New York that needs to be addressed. It is well past time that Nassau County’s officials stopped with the fear-mongering and accepted their responsibility to be part of the solution, not the problem.

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