Governor Hochul's Housing Plan Fails In Albany
Her housing plan is shot down by the Legislature. Now what?
I wrote a three-column series for the Highlands Current on how the U.S. housing crisis is playing out in New York and specifically the Hudson Valley. See Priced Out, Priced Out, Part II, and Priced Out, Part III. The biggest takeaway is that the region (and the nation) is suffering from the consequences of decades of underbuilding and recent surges in housing costs partly driven by the Covid-accelerated migration of well-paid professionals from New York to the suburbs and exurbs here at the periphery of the metropolitan area.
Governor Hochul has proposed a plan to build more than 800,000 new housing units over the next 10 years, which she admitted is inadequate, perhaps meeting only 10 percent of the housing shortfall in the State. However, the State legislature is balking, specifically because her proposal would override local zoning control in municipalities that do not meet ambitious goals to create new housing.
In the New York Times, Luis Ferré-Sadurni recounts the legislature’s rejection of the proposal, and their alternative approach, which is all carrot and no stick:
Altering Hochul’s housing plan
Lawmakers significantly picked apart Ms. Hochul’s ambitious plan to curb the state’s housing shortage and high living costs by constructing more than 800,000 new units of housing over the next 10 years, or about twice what New York has built in the last decade.
The governor’s plan is centered on getting municipalities to meet specific housing targets: Localities downstate must increase the number of homes by 3 percent over three years, while places upstate have a target of 1 percent. Ms. Hochul proposed certain mechanisms to coerce cities, towns and villages to ease restrictions that have stunted housing production in the state, especially in the New York City suburbs.
The governor’s plan would mandate the construction of more housing along public transit lines. And if a municipality does not meet its target, the state could allow developers to override local zoning rules, a provision that provoked backlash among both Republican and Democratic officials in the suburbs.
Responding to the suburban opposition, Democratic lawmakers rejected Ms. Hochul’s plan to encourage transit-oriented development, as well as the state’s ability to override local zoning.
Instead, lawmakers proposed a $500 million fund to award incentives to localities that meet the housing targets, a move that was decried by supporters of Ms. Hochul’s housing plan as lacking enough teeth to boost housing production in neighborhoods that have blocked it for years.
“We believe that building housing is important, we believe affordability is important and we believe we can get there with incentives, principally, and community involvement,” said Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic majority leader who represents Westchester, parts of which have routinely opposed new housing.
The Governor’s housing proposal is strangely progressive, by which I mean she’s pushing beyond what the moderate Democratic-dominated legislature is willing to do about housing, and that progressivism is out of sync with her advocacy of conservative Hector LaSalle as the State’s head judge. That she would go so far as to attempt an end run past the NIMBYism baked into the metropolitan suburbs and exurbs has led to this break with her Democratic colleagues.
As much as I believe in density and more inclusive housing, her approach clearly is not going to work. She — or someone else — is going to work hard, and for a long time, to build a movement dedicated to tackling the housing crisis in New York. There seems to be no such movement taking root in the Legislature, or else it is a small and quiet one.
At any rate, it looks like Gov. Hochul in the near term is going to have to work on a compromise, and it will likely not include the zoning override threat built into the current proposal, and maybe not even the emphasis on transit-oriented development.
This conflict in the State Democratic party underscores a weakness of State governance: why does New York State not have a planning department, and why did Hochul get so far out ahead of the Legislature on the housing issue? Shouldn’t there be a commission on housing led by the (non-existent) NY State Planning Department, experts, and members of the Legislature that could have worked to come up with a plan that could be turned into law?
In the final analysis, the Governor seems to be operating without close integration with the Legislature, an approach that will lead to policy failure and perhaps political failure for her when reelection comes around.