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Time Has Come To Engage Hochul’s Housing Plan With A Full-Throated Debate On How Best To Implement It
By: Paul Adler
Despite the political rhetoric, Governor Kathy Hochul’s proposed housing compact was bold, courageous and quite thought-provoking. Generally, the public recognized the need for additional housing and wanted something done, but the politicos didn’t. Almost like a Supreme Court dissenting opinion that becomes good law in time, so too will Hochul’s housing proposal become good housing policy and practice in New York State.
We can’t ignore the 800-pound gorilla in the room: New York is facing an existential housing crisis. You can’t create 1.2 million jobs over the last decade in sectors that make the state sustainable, and yet only build 400,000 new housing units. The math doesn’t work!
The Governor’s mantra – Building Homes, Builds Communities captured the essence of the plan in a concise manner because everyone, not just poor folk, need an array of all levels of housing stock in their area where it is woefully lacking or absent entirely. The barriers that exist to housing growth must be addressed.
Empty sites that once had housing on it, government owned land (not reserved for parkland), and vacant or outdated commercial or industrial buildings at transit centers are currently not considered candidates for needed housing whether multi-family or specialized because most local governments are engaging in exclusionary planning practices or ostrich zoning (head in sand). Everyone agrees we need a version of Hochul’s plan, they just want it implemented in some other town or village, and not theirs.
This type of NIMBY-ism or Localism is firmly entrenched in New York State’s geo-political landscape. The State Constitution affords the most important police power of zoning and planning at the lowest level of government. So, if you live in a Village or in a Town, then the Village holds that police power, and if you live in a Town outside a Village; the Town is the zoning and planning authority.
Every municipality in the state needs commercial tax ratables by attracting clean, modern sustainable commercial taxpayers. That only occurs when local talent is present because job creators want a place in a community that is compatible with their ethos. According to leaders of Westchester Business Association, Hudson Valley Economic Development Corp. Orange County Partnership, Westchester Business Council and the Rockland Business Association, the lack of adequate housing is stalling the economy by denying businesses local talent because workers are fleeing to neighboring states.
One need not be a geo-political pundit like me (self-effacing sarcasm) to realize the Empire State is in a precarious position without a viable housing plan.
More than 50 years ago, experts recognized the need for a comprehensive housing plan for the state. It is abundantly clear that most local officials either dropped the ball, fumbled the ball or took their ball and bat and left the housing game. The time has come to engage Hochul’s plan with a full-throated debate on how best to implement all, or most all of this visionary plan. Just saying no, is not an acceptable response by localities especially suburban areas anymore.
To be clear, the state rollout of the housing compact was flawed but it’s a learning curve that will create a new and improved plan in the future; more carrot and less stick. Those loud voices in the state legislature that opposed the plan also understood that defeating the plan might weaken the newly elected Governor for reasons only known to those in Albany. Their attempts to drown out the pro-housing groups by embroiling the issue into the Governor’s first real budget worked. They don’t call the budget process in Albany the BIG UGLY for nothing.
The Governor and pro-housing advocates need to focus on viable projects in the pipeline, and get ground broken NOW. Many of the Governor’s goals can be achieved by building those projects and the proof will be in the pudding.
Local governments need to lead and remove the fear factor in the process, and use the planned growth in these communities as evidence why other resistant communities should and must join the effort to breathe new life into stale, stagnant, down-trodden and crime-ridden downtowns. It is possible and plausible to combine the need to build a stronger state economy with 800,000 new homes while respecting local accountability.
It’s up to the reader to become more involved in local planning and zoning matters that reflect a modern day approach to the suburb’s Second Act. After nearly 80 years since the end of WWII, the suburbs need to re-imagine the next 80 years.
Hochul must recast the Housing Compact into New York’s version of JFK’s challenge to the nation to put a person on the moon before the end of the decade by asking New Yorkers to let New York dream big again, to lead and restore the Empire State by providing housing to those that want to live, work and play in the greatest state in the union.
Paul Adler is Chief Strategy Officer of Rand Commercial. firstname.lastname@example.org