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Gov. Kathy Hochul has pledged to address the state’s housing crisis in the 2023 legislative session. Experts weigh in on the ways she could accomplish her goal.
Last month, Gov. Kathy Hochul pledged to create 800,000 new housing units over the next 10 years as part of her upcoming State of the State address.
The state’s housing crisis remains a hot-button issue each legislative session, as demand continues to outweigh the limited housing supply. Housing advocates and tenant groups have sounded the alarm for help at the state level to alleviate affordability issues, but popular housing legislation—including “good cause” eviction and the Tenants Opportunity to Purchase Act—have not been able to get passed in years prior. The last legislative session also signified the end of the controversial 421-a tax incentive program and Hochul was unsuccessful in garnering enough support for a replacement for the program, 485-w.
Leading into the next legislative session, Hochul has reaffirmed her commitment to addressing the housing crisis, previewing a “bold and audacious” housing plan. While there was much excitement and several questions surrounding the governor’s pledge to increase housing over the next decade, the details of the plan are expected to be revealed in next month’s State of State address.
City & State reached out to experts and advocates to weigh in on the governor’s pledge ahead of the address, including Andrea Shapiro, director of programs and advocacy with the Met Council on Housing; Eric Kober, a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute; Vicki Been, New York University law professor and the faculty director of NYU’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy; Moses Gates, vice president of housing and neighborhood planning at the Regional Plan Association; Sophie Cappello, campaign associate at the Regional Plan Association and Mike McKee, treasurer for Tenants Political Action Committee.
These responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Gov. Kathy Hochul intends to create 800,000 housing units over the next decade. From a logistical standpoint, what should be considered when building that amount of housing?
Shapiro: The biggest question is what mechanisms is she going to use to get this housing built. We're particularly nervous that she's going to bring back a bad tax abatement like 421-a or her proposal around 485-w that give huge amounts of tax breaks to developers to build luxury housing, and we don’t need luxury housing. You can build as much luxury housing as you want and that will not help the housing crisis—it only makes it worse. It's really important to consider things like social housing, the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, and the housing access voucher program. [They] would really make a dent in the affordability crisis, keep people in their homes, allow people to pay their rent and change the nature of New York City's housing.
Kober: To build 800,000 units, most of that housing would need to be built within New York City. Concurrently, the mayor announced a goal of 500,000 units. Then there are 300,000 units, presumably most of those would be the downstate suburbs since most upstate communities don't suffer from a housing shortage.
Then there’s an additional explanation of how the state, and the governor, is calling to pump up housing construction in the suburbs. Both in New York City and in the suburbs, most of the authority to decide where and how much housing is going to be built is under local control. One of the big problems in the suburbs is that there are numerous dozens of local governments, each of which would have to become willing to allow housing; unless the state passes laws that override local control of zoning in such a dramatic way.
Been: Fairness in two senses—1) how to ensure fair housing that opens communities with good schools, transit, and employment opportunities to lower-income families and makes every community more racially and economically diverse; 2) ensuring that every community bears a fair share of the obligation to provide housing. That requires attention to the logistical difficulties of getting housing approved—the more logistical and regulatory barriers persist, the more power well-resourced communities have to resist new housing.
Gates: From a logistical standpoint, you need the physical space and sites and zoning authority to be able to do this. The second component is finding the type of favorable financials that can make construction feasible, that means reasonable construction costs and financing that's available on decent terms. If you're going to build that much housing, you need to have a large amount—if not every neighborhood and community—open to building housing. You're not going to put 100,000 units in three neighborhoods. You're going to really need every neighborhood in every community to do its part to enable the construction of more housing, including a lot of neighborhoods that have historically been exclusionary and not really even in the conversation are going to have to be in the conversation.
McKee: It is important to build new housing but the question is, what kind of housing? Simply building market rate housing is not a solution, unless you believe in trickle-down economics, which is like believing in the Tooth Fairy. The idea that affluent people will move into new luxury housing, making their old apartments available for folks lower down the economic ladder, and that this will happen overnight, is a fantasy: This process, known as filtering, does occur, but over a period of decades, not years. Therefore new housing programs should be targeted to low, moderate and middle-income New Yorkers. It's OK to have a small portion of this be market rate, perhaps 30%, but the state should not be subsidizing new luxury housing, much of which now sits vacant or provides pieds-á-terre for rich foreigners.
Which policy changes would need to be implemented to successfully build that level of housing?
Been: Reducing the discretion and time local governments have to deny rezoning and subdivision and building permits, reducing the number of opportunities opponents have to sue over things like the environmental reviews—to delay is to deny, so giving people opportunities to bring suits that hold up the development regardless of the strength of the legal arguments makes development cost a lot more and prevents new housing in neighborhoods that have the resources to litigate, which are often neighborhoods that are hoarding opportunities. Promoting a sense of shared obligation will be important.
Capello: The Regional Plan Association published an analysis about the 800,000 unit number, also a set of policy recommendations. We can't predict exactly what the governor will put in the State of the State, but we can feel confident that things like legalizing ADUs and authorizing transit-oriented development zones, eliminating or reducing parking minimums are all necessary in meeting that 800,000 number. There isn't necessarily one silver bullet or one policy recommendation that's going to work across the state, but it's looking at a set of recommendations.
Is there anything more that the governor should be thinking about to effectively address the housing crisis heading into the next session?
Shapiro: (Hochul) should really listen to the Housing Justice For All platform to make sure Good Cause Eviction protection —those basic protections for all tenants—are all there. The ability for tenants to afford their apartments with the housing access voucher program, the right to first refusal with the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, and it’s time to reform the rent guidelines board. If Hochul was to really think about her legacy on housing in New York, she could make a social housing authority. New York state could fund its own public housing, we don't need to rely on the federal government – which we know isn't and can't help us with our public housing.
Gates: Making sure that the state has the capacity to monitor and implement all of this, like the staffing capacity and the financial capacity to do it is really important. If you're going to put something like this in place, you have to make sure that you also put in place funding and staffing levels to make it effective.
Will Hochul’s pledge to build 800,000 housing units fit into the state’s climate goals? Why or why not?
Kober: The best way to fit more housing that is consistent with the state’s climate goals: Build densely within cities. That is a very substantial issue in New York City. Most of New York City has very restrictive zoning and has inflicted rules that, even when areas are rezoned, make it impossible to build housing without subsidies. What the city needs to do is to get rid of its own obstructions and allow private real estate development to take place without unworkable restrictions.
Been: Yes if done carefully—denser, more transit-oriented development in buildings built to be more energy efficient and resilient will almost always be more climate-friendly than current development patterns.
Gates: The single best thing you can do for climate, in terms of housing, is to make sure that the types of housing built are climate-friendly. That’s denser multifamily housing in walkable neighborhoods. Number two is making sure that buildings themselves incorporate energy efficiency, green elements, and reduce carbon emissions through building systems and other incentives. I think it would be really interesting to see those types of incentives be part of the state housing package.