Skip to main content

Here’s How Hochul Can Salvage Her Goal of More Affordable Housing in NY

New York Post

May 1, 2023

Notably missing from the budget the Legislature is passing is a proposal Gov. Kathy Hochul had marked as a top priority: spurring cities and towns to build 800,000 new housing units.

It wasn’t fundamentally a bad idea.

You don’t have to be an economist to know that if housing prices are too damn high, increasing the supply of homes might bring them down and meet demand.

But what might have been a popular idea instead did something rare in New York politics — united progressives and conservatives in fervid opposition.

The key sticking point was the plan’s central-planning dimension: It would have given Albany the right to override local decisions against specific new building projects.

“Local, not Hochul” became an effective battle cry officials sounded from Queens to Long Island.

But it’s not too late for Hochul to salvage her goal, if not her specific plan.

A good first step: Back off the budget’s ultra-green ban on new gas stoves.

Hochul may not see the connection with housing starts, but developers will.

They’ll be unable to offer buyers a choice they might well prefer.

What’s more, the switch to all-electric at the same time she’s pushing for a switch to unreliable power sources — think wind and solar — means not only higher power costs than those for new homes in other states but no guarantee the lights will stay on.

A sensible second step: Ask local officials what kinds of new housing they might accept.

It became clear what they don’t want: tall apartment complexes, including low-income units, built as “transit-oriented development” near Long Island Rail Road stations.

These would change the character of towns dominated by single-family homes.

But low-density suburbs in Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties know they have a housing problem.

Children raised there can’t afford to stay. The newcomers older homeowners need when they want to downsize are priced out.

For that matter, old residents can’t find a smaller spot if they want to stay in town.

Teachers, police and firefighters can’t find a place they can afford in the towns they serve as they once did.

These situations cry out for “missing middle” or “naturally occurring affordable housing”: smaller homes on smaller lots, not high-rises in shopping areas.

The new housing needs to be more varied, too: Two- and three-family homes’ rents would allow young families to buy homes notwithstanding high interest rates. So would modestly priced attached townhouses as starter homes.

These are not magnets for controversy.

But their construction can impose costs — for new sewer hookups, sidewalks and other infrastructure.

That’s where the state can help, with the sort of “incentive” funds suburban legislators suggested but Hochul rejected.

Developers should do their part: Come up with proposals that don’t need big subsidies.

They need to sell them to localities — not ask the governor to shove them down suburbs’ throats.

There’s a great precedent for this.

In 1946, developer William Levitt proposed building a new suburb of thousands of homes in former potato fields.

The Town of Hempstead turned him down because the houses would have no basements.

Levitt returned with a room full of recently returned World War II veterans crammed into Brooklyn walk-ups with their in-laws.

The result was Levittown.

Levitt had figured out something that gets lost today: housing that the people, not the planners, want to buy.

In an ideal world, the state’s distorted housing market would be repaired in a host of ways.

New York City’s property-tax regime penalizes new residential construction by taxing it at the highest rate.

Restoring the property-tax abatement named for one section of state law — 421a — would help.

But better still to revise the property-tax code as a whole — and bring taxes down.

While we’re dreaming, there’s the matter of rent regulation, which controls prices on nearly a million Gotham units.

The regime encourages older, affluent tenants to continue to live in large apartments they no longer need — while potential newcomers are priced out or doubled and tripled up.

If rent regulation ended tomorrow, many owners would find the market won’t allow them to charge more in many parts of the city.

If prices rose on the Upper West Side, so be it.