RCBJ-Audible (Listen For Free)
Governor Plans to Address Vital Financial and Procedural Barriers Thwarting Affordable Housing in New York
By David Carlucci
Governor Kathy Hochul has made the housing crisis one of the top priorities of her administration, as seen through her multi-step plan toward increasing the New York State housing supply. The plan addresses the high costs of rent and mortgages, housing shortages, and homelessness for millions of families.
The housing crisis is a national dilemma, but governors and state legislatures have taken charge by implementing individualized housing plans suiting their constituents.
As part of her 2024 State of the State address, Governor Hochul initiated the next phase of this strategy, which focused on incentivizing the construction of new housing and amending New York State zoning laws to make way for non-traditional, affordable housing. Although the Governor’s address focused primarily on New York City, the 2024 housing plan increases the statewide housing supply.
The first component of this next step involves unlocking the potential for thousands more rental units in New York City through incentivizing construction and introducing safety nets for building projects. In July 2023, the Governor launched a replicate 421-a tax abatement pilot program, saving 30,000 units from the risk of incompletion. The pilot program centered around the Gowanus rezoning area in Brooklyn. By the end of the year, tax abatements opened the door for up to 5,500 new units of housing, 1,400 of which will be affordable housing in the community,
This year, Governor Hochul wants to go a step further. She proposes legislation expanding this successful project across the city, not just in a single zoning area. The expansion, along with a proposed extension of the completion deadline for the 421-a program, will incentivize and ease the anxieties of building developers constructing projects in New York City, allowing for the construction of tens of thousands of new housing units across the city.
Tackling Housing Crisis Demands Amending Zoning Laws
Building construction often dominates dialogue on affordable housing, usually due to assumptions that traditional homeownership is the only end goal for residents. However, as Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress President and CEO Adam Bosch explains on an episode of the Legislative Gazette, the demand for non-traditional housing is on the rise, especially in New York State. Gone are the days of 21-year-olds purchasing two-acre homes, and in their place are people of all ages inhabiting smaller homes, walkable cooperative communities, and mobile homes. However, as Bosch identifies in the podcast, New York’s zoning laws do not allow for developers to take advantage of the growing demand for non-traditional housing. Tackling the housing crisis involves amending zoning laws to increase the affordable housing supply safely.
Governor Hochul’s housing plan considers these trends, proposing legislation to allow New York City and New York State to incentivize the construction of affordable housing units within unorthodox spaces. New York State law currently limits residential density in New York City through a 12.0 floor-area ratio. Governor Hochul aims to address these longstanding restrictions on residential density in NYC by proposing legislation lifting the floor-area ratio cap to maximize housing construction.
Zoning laws also restrict the legality of basement and cellar apartments in housing units, which the Governor plans to loosen through legislation. Last, the Governor intends to accelerate the redevelopment of state-owned sites for housing through a $500 million capital fund supporting the construction of an estimated 15,000 new affordable housing units across the entire state, not just New York City. The Governor’s investment strategically focuses on areas near commuter rail stations and SUNY properties, providing tenants access to affordable housing, reliable transportation, and educational opportunities.
The Governor plans to address vital financial and procedural barriers standing in the way of affordable housing in New York. More specifically, she proposes strengthening the Pro-Housing Communities Program by requiring certification for localities to access certain state discretionary funds. In doing so, the Pro-Housing Communities Program will be incentivized to become proactive partners in building affordable housing. The plan also includes eliminating discriminatory practices against families and individuals with Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers through a new enforcement unit. Although Section 8 discrimination is illegal per State law, discrimination still occurs against many low- and moderate-income families. Under the direction of Governor Hochul, the New York State Division of Human Rights will launch a new enforcement unit dedicated to investigating and resolving discrimination complaints.
Finally, Governor Hochul’s 2024 housing strategy calls for developing a new public resource website to ease the search for affordable housing for New York State families. The website will list State-financed units, eligibility criteria, and necessary housing applications. Having all these resources in one place will streamline the process for families and allow them to find the best plan according to their needs.
David Carlucci consults organizations on navigating government and securing funding. He served for ten years in the New York Senate.