On The Street

In Search of Affordable Housing: A Conversation With Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins

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By Michael Gold

Helping people find affordable housing is one of the biggest challenges New York State faces.

“How do we create more housing and housing that is more affordable?” is the key question Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins asked in a recent interview with me.

The senator explained the dilemmas faced by area residents. Seniors are saying they can’t afford to live here. Parents want their kids to be able to live nearby when they grow up.  People who work in communities throughout the area can’t afford housing near their jobs. Some have to drive up to two hours to get to their place of employment.

“This market is extremely expensive. The vast majority of new development is not something that people like me, and the seniors in Mount Pleasant, can afford,” Stewart-Cousins said.

To reinforce her point, the price of a home in the sold-out Summit Estates development in Mount Pleasant ranges from about $1.2 million to almost $2 million, according to the New York Suburban Homes website (https://www.realestatehudsonvalleyny.com/westchester-towns/Valhalla-homes-Summit-Estates-at-Westchester/).

In response, the senator discussed several programs that are available for state residents to help people find affordable housing.

The 2023-24 state budget provided $25 billion to “create or preserve 100,000 affordable homes” across the state.

“The enacted budget will also make continued major investments to build new supportive housing, preserve existing multifamily developments, construct new homes for seniors, create new opportunities for first-time homeowners, and improve energy-efficiency across the state’s current housing stock,” Gov. Kathy Hochul’s website states.

The plan provides $1 billion for new construction of multifamily affordable housing, $450 million “to preserve existing multi-family rental housing,” $400 million to “advance homeownership opportunities…especially in historically underserved markets, and to give low-income families the opportunity to have the dream of first-time homeownership” and $300 million “for senior housing, to help seniors age in place safely,” the governor’s website also states.

The current year’s budget gives $36 million to the New York State Affordable Housing Corporation (AHC), “to increase homeownership opportunities for low- and moderate-income families” through grants to government, nonprofit and charitable organizations, in an effort to subsidize the cost of new home construction and renovations of existing homes.

One model for getting more units on the market can be found in New York City’s 421-A plan, which gives developers incentives to build affordable housing, Stewart-Cousins said.

One of the essential features of building affordable housing is incentivizing individual communities to motivate them to construct these units.

“You need a comprehensive approach, to engage the community in how to move forward,” she said.

“I would love to start building affordable housing across the state. The state is willing to put up the money to help,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We have a five-year capital plan to create and preserve affordable housing, with $40 million to protect people from foreclosure, to stave off homelessness.”

The Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP) is administered by the state Attorney General’s office. It provides information and tools for homeowners to fight foreclosure and fend off a variety of fraud, such as deed theft, foreclosure and refinancing scams. It also offers information on home repairs, tax liens and the benefits and dangers of reverse mortgages. (For more information, visit https://homeownerhelpny.org/foreclosures.)

Developers such as MacQuesten and Wilder Balter work with communities to develop consensus on building affordable housing, Stewart-Cousins pointed out.

MacQuesten has built affordable and low-income apartment buildings in Mount Vernon, New Rochelle and the Bronx and other communities, according to the company’s website.

Wilder Balter completed an 82-unit apartment building in Peekskill in September. It is currently building apartment units in Ossining, Southeast, Tarrytown, New Rochelle and Scarsdale.

Also, Stewart-Cousins said that the governor has proposed allocating in her 2024-25 budget $250 million for a voluntary buyout program for homeowners who have suffered flooding in their homes.

The state’s Environmental Bond Act, passed by voters in 2022, provides about $4 billion for restoration and flood risk reduction, resilient infrastructure, water infrastructure improvement, municipal stormwater improvements, coastal rehabilitation and shoreline protection, inland flooding and local waterfront revitalization, green building projects, climate adaptation and mitigation and purchasing open space, among other priorities.

“Every community is wrestling with extraordinary, unpredictable weather,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We have backyards disappearing, garages disappearing. I certainly sympathize (with homeowners). It’s not just Mount Pleasant. It’s been an incredible challenge to communities all over.”

To learn more about flood risk and flood insurance, visit https://www.floodhelpny.org/en/understanding-flood-insurance.

Summing up what’s needed to help New Yorkers find affordable housing, Stewart-Cousins stated, “Just as our legislative predecessors Mitchell and Lama did in the 1950s, when they devised their housing programs for New York, state government must come together to implement long-term statewide solutions to the complex issues pertaining to housing affordability for New Yorkers.”

Pleasantville-based writer Michael Gold has had articles published in the New York Daily News, the Albany Times Union, the Hartford Courant, The Palm Beach Post and other newspapers, and The Hardy Society Journal, a British literary journal.

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