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NYS Legislature Needs To Change Laws That Perpetuate Housing Crisis & Homelessness

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Statewide Legislation To Preempt Local Laws That Perpetuate The Housing Crisis Need To Be Considered

By Matthew I. Brennan

New York State has both an affordable housing problem and a homelessness crisis.

Changes in state laws can reduce homelessness and save taxpayers money spent housing the homeless while improving the lives of the tens of thousands of people who live lives of lonely solitude.

All over New York State there are tens of thousands of empty bedrooms. New York needs to create a statewide law that allows homeowners to utilize their empty bedrooms without interference from local government.

It had always been common practice for empty nesters, especially widows, to have boarders living in their unused bedrooms to help them meet their bills.  Rooming houses were common.  Local governments have created their own definitions of “family” – deciding who can live together, where and in what numbers, denying people the opportunity to cohabitate. This should not be the role of local towns or villages. The only input that local government should exercise is compliance and enforcement of state construction standards and fire codes.

The New York State legislature needs to step in and preempt local laws defining or limiting families.

Accessory Dwelling Units

Bills like NYS State Senate Bill S4547A and NYS Assembly Bill A4854 need to advance from the Senate and the Assembly committees in order to create a state law regarding the creation of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) inside Single Family Homes or on Single Family Lots and alleviate the housing shortage where the costs of apartments have increased 1000 percent in thirty years!

California recently passed such a law that allows a single-family house of any size or lot size to have an accessory apartment. California’s version may be a bit too liberal.

Enough support for an ADU law might be found if it were modified to apply only to single-family homes of at least three thousand square-feet, and  located on properties of at least one-half acre where the owners were older than fifty-five years of age.

Residential Use Variances

Section 267-b of New York State Town Law gives overwhelming authority to local Zoning Boards of Appeals to deny homeowner Use Variance applications related to residential properties. The law makes it nearly impossible for any homeowner to successfully petition the government to obtain a Use Variance to convert a single-family residence into a two-family, even when a homeowner has a large house on a large lot on a well-traveled state or county road.

Section 267-b of New York State Town Law, as related to use variances, should be rewritten to lower the burden on the applicant on petitions that relate to single-family homes.

The law presumptively denies a use variance unless a homeowner can show “unnecessary hardship.”

In order to prove such unnecessary hardship, a homeowner has to show all of the following:  that for each and every permitted use under the zoning regulations where the property is located, (1) the applicant cannot realize a reasonable return, provided that lack of return is substantial as demonstrated by competent financial evidence;  (2) that the alleged hardship relating to the property in question is unique, and does not apply to a substantial portion of the district or neighborhood;  (3) that the requested use variance, if granted, will not alter the essential character of the neighborhood;  and (4) that the alleged hardship has not been self-created.

These standards create an insurmountable obstacle to ever obtaining a use variance in a residential zone. This entrenched structure not only perpetuates the affordable housing and homelessness crises, it has created them. Rigid zoning laws, and a meaningless mechanism to obtaining variances, need to be addressed at the state level.

Changes Are Needed At The State Level

Changes in the mechanism of obtaining a variance need to be legislated at the state level. Outdated zoning codes need to be modified at the local level. Statewide legislation to preempt local laws that perpetuate the housing crisis need to be considered, and where the local authorities won’t act, the laws need to be passed.

Many lifelong New York residents older than fifty-five want to be winter snowbirds but the legal structures preventing them from using their property to create income makes that difficult.

Legislators must address the aforementioned legal situations during the current legislative session because the status quo has a direct and profound negative effect upon homelessness in New York State.

Matthew I Brennan is candidate for Rockland County Legislature District 10