It is a common refrain: Long Island (Nassau County, North Hempstead) is unaffordable. Housing is too expensive. Property taxes are too high. Our young people can’t afford to stay in the communities they grew up in (Do they even want to?). Seniors can’t afford to stay in their home.
But we also hear literally shrieks of horror at every housing development that is proposed. This was clear at a Great Neck BZA hearing when neighbors even opposed building a house on an empty lot big enough to accommodate a Residence A zoned house. Opponents claimed it would continue the trend toward turning our neighborhood into Queens – the argument that was made when areas of the Peninsula were up-zoned to Residence AA to stop “shoehorning.”
On the other hand, the Nassau County IDA has just awarded enormous tax concessions to Gesher Center LLC for a four-story, 60-unit apartment building (nine units at below market rate) at 733-741 Middle Neck Rd. which residents argued was too massive for the site. The Great Neck School District also protested giving the developer a 23-year PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) that would not only force other residents to make up the difference, but because of the tax cap on what can be charged, may well force curtailment of the very quality public education system that makes living in Great Neck so desirable and therefore valuable.
Clearly a conundrum. Is there a balance? I think so: There should be a balance between adding housing but doing it in a way that contributes to the quality of life of a community and by giving that community the benefit that should come from more development — lower taxes, not higher.
The New York Times recently reported about a new affordable housing community in the Jamaica Bay area that is being designed around “Blue Zone” principles that integrate environmental sustainability and health and wellness (even a community farm that will sell its fresh produce to residents).
On the other hand, a Newsday article described how The Hain Celestial Group Inc. is leaving Lake Success despite getting $1.3 million in tax breaks from the IDA (which it will have to repay), to open new headquarters in Hoboken, NJ, noting the employees were attracted to walking paths, green spaces, gyms and yoga studios, restaurants and shops, and public transportation options to the office and New York City. Likely a factor was also the availability of more affordable housing, which would make it easier to attract employees at lower salary than living in Long Island requires.
Gov. Kathy Hochul has made this point about the housing crisis being a drag on economic development because workers can’t afford to live near their work, even if they could find a home.
County Legislator Mazi Melesa Pilip sent out her taxpayer-funded newsletter crowing over how the Republicans beat back Hochul’s bold housing supply plan, exaggerating as they do, that it would have ended local control (the plan was to work in partnership with localities). They are great at saying no, but truly horrible at coming up with any ideas to solve this or any other challenge.
“It is not just a shortage, it is a crisis,” Hochul said, announcing new executive orders. “That has become one of the No. 1 reasons people leave our state… People do want to be here, but we’ve not kept up with the need for building housing for decades, and we’re going to address that starting here today.”
Hochul acknowledged how her housing plan went down in flames: “The legislature was not ready for it and would not commit at the time to the transformative change that New Yorkers so desperately need and deserve. But I still believe that we need a comprehensive solution to meet the scale of this housing crisis… We press on because New Yorkers need houses built now.”
The essence of the plan is not to flood neighborhoods with low-income residents, but by building more supply of houses in all categories, it will drive down the cost. “It is basic supply and demand: you build more housing, the prices drop. And we have not been building, and the prices are going up and it’s hurting our residents,“ the governor said.
Well, Hochul has come back with a new housing plan, one that minimizes the “sticks” that were so objectionable to localities (which upset nervous Democrats as well) while maximizing the carrots (funding for supporting infrastructure). Communities that show they are expanding housing can qualify for a slice of $650 million in statewide funding. Existing programs, such as the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant, also help communities repurpose and build transit-oriented housing.
Hochul has signed executive orders designating discretionary funds totaling $650 million as “Pro-Housing Community Programs” to reward municipalities that actively seek to “unlock” their housing potential. It will prioritize funding based on a new certification process factoring whether localities have streamlined permitting or adopted pro-housing policies, and whether they have submitted critical housing and zoning data to the state to help identify challenges to and track progress on housing growth. Communities that additionally meet annual housing growth targets of 1% downstate and one-third of a percent upstate will get the highest priority for funding.
The governor is also taking administrative actions to ease state regulatory hurdles to building new housing. The Department of State has initiated regulatory updates to align the State Environmental Quality Review Act with other agencies’ SEQR regulations and will help facilitate obtaining variances under the Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code and Energy Conservation Construction Code. The Department of Environmental Conservation will also look for opportunities to promote environmentally friendly housing growth while maintaining SEQR’s critical protections for all communities.
“Because at the end of the day, what kind of state do you want to be?,” she asked. “If we don’t step up now and start taking bold action, who will? … No governor has taken on housing since Nelson Rockefeller. You know why? Because it gets a little hot in the kitchen sometimes, right? Yeah, I’ve been burned, but I’m still here… I can promise you this: as long as I’m the governor, I’m going to focus every single day on making New York State more desirable, more livable and more affordable because the future rewards those who persevere.”
The key – and the challenge – for Hochul will be that housing development not be shoddy and a blight on a community, but done in a way to maximize quality of life for everyone.