“Pretty please” hasn’t worked. So Gov. Kathy Hochul has brought out sticks and carrots to satisfy the decades-old unrequited demand for more housing to undergird the state’s economic development held back not by dollars, entrepreneurship or innovation, but by the lack of affordable housing.
Democratic legislators, spooked by what they can expect is the 2023 bail reform political poison pill, pose an alternative carrots-and-sticks approach, providing money incentive for municipalities that offer a plan and more money when they implement it instead of a cavalry.)
Hochul’s NY Housing Compact is a bold, visionary plan to create more than 800,000 new homes statewide over the next decade. Far from the “attack on our suburban communities” and “threat to our suburban way of life,” that predictably comes principally from Republicans (Jack Martins, Bruce Blakeman, Jennifer DeSena) and politically skittish Democrats, it is not a “one-size fits all” mandate, but gives municipalities full rein to come up with their own solutions.
But come up with solutions they must. Because housing is a crisis that threatens to hold back necessary economic development and keep our suburbs from decaying into unsustainability. How do you “Save Our Suburbs” (the catchy slogan opponents use) if young people can’t afford to buy the homes built for families? And the fact is “suburban lifestyle” has always been changing and must change (it is code for the systemic racism that has resulted in Long Island still being one of the most segregated in the country).
Hochul’s proposal would require localities to rezone the area within one-half mile of MTA/LIRR rail stations in the next three years to achieve 3% housing growth unless the area already meets density requirements. For areas within 15 miles of New York City, which means much of Nassau County, localities not meeting state targets would need to rezone to allow up to 50 housing units per acre (25 housing units per acre elsewhere) unless they already meet that target.
Here’s the stick: If localities don’t meet that goal, developers could appeal to a proposed state Housing Approval Board. At that point, the state could green light mixed-income, multifamily proposals even if they don’t meet existing local zoning standards. Municipalities would have to object for health or safety reasons to defeat an appeal.
“It’s ambitious, but I know we can reach it together,” Hochul said in Patchogue, one of a series of appearances across the state promoting the NY Housing Compact. “And we set home creation targets for cities, towns, villages, that are realistic and achievable and if you don’t think so, we’ll talk about it and we’ll show you how. And local leaders are driving this process to ensure that housing keeps pace with the demand of the employers and the young people and the people that want to come here. We have to meet that demand.”
She said communities would have the flexibility they want and municipalities could design their own approach for creating growth in a scarce market where housing is too expensive.
In fact, New York has created 1.2 million new jobs in the past decade but only 400,000 new housing units. The state is investing millions to cultivate life-sciences, clean renewable energy and other enterprises to revitalize Long Island, but where will employees live?
Hochul’s proposal attempts to redress the main obstacles communities have used to block development: the expense of providing the infrastructure and services (sewer treatment, water supply, roads, lighting and the like), and even adequate planning experts by creating a fund of at least $250 million, an amount that will be increased if necessary. And for smaller communities that cannot afford the necessary planning process, she has created a $20 million fund they can tap.
Republicans – especially when they are campaigning – constantly complain about the migration of population off the island, blaming high property taxes and energy costs. They hone in on economic development as the antidote to increase the tax base. But you can’t have economic development without housing. And if the problem is that the population has been leaving, I fail to understand Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman’s complaint that the 3% would mean the addition of 38,000 units (households) and 100,000 people over three years. How would this be a hardship rather than the economic boon that folks like Destination Great Neck, who pine for the vitality Great Neck used to have, are appealing for?
And as Hochul notes her NY Housing Compact, it isn’t necessarily low income. She is advocating a full spectrum of housing types, but affordability will naturally come if supply better matches demand.
“That’s all we’re talking about,” she said. “Giving people the chance to live in their homes, build capital, build wealth by buying that first little condo and eventually you can progress through life.”
Also, there needs to be a reversal of the trend manufactured by banks and venture capitalists to keep people in rentals and out of home ownership, once the staple of the American Dream, white picket fence and all. For most, housing is their major asset, their nest egg, their legacy to lift up their progeny. Owning – rather than renting – makes for more stable, safe communities, engaged citizens and voters.
One hundred organizations throughout the state have come forward to strongly endorse Hochul’s NY Housing Compact; at appearances on Long Island, Westchester and throughout the state, employers, workers and residents share their own experience, pleading with their local elected officials for more housing availability.
“Gov. Hochul deserves credit for standing up to propose a vision to address Long Island’s lack of housing – especially affordable housing,” said Ian Wilder, executive director of Long Island Housing Services. “Without a plan, Long Island — especially our economy — will continue to be hollowed out because of a dearth of places to live.”
Housing is Hochul’s Erie Canal – “Clinton’s Folly,” mocked in 1818, that made New York the Empire State and New York City the financial capital of the world.