With Housing Bills Out of the Budget, Now Comes the Difficult Part

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Over the past month there was a groundswell of opposition to two pieces of legislation that were surreptitiously included in the upcoming fiscal year’s Executive Budget.

The Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) bill, which had been introduced last year by state Sen. Peter Harckham, and Gov. Kathy Hochul’s own addition, a Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) proposal, ignited a firestorm of backlash. Some of the criticism was warranted.

The ADU plan would have given residential property owners the right to build an accessory unit if they wanted with far fewer restrictions than what most municipalities currently have on the books. The TOD proposal would have allowed 25 residential units per acre within a half-mile radius of a train station, an unsustainable idea no matter how pro-affordable housing one may be.

At least residents and municipal officials had a heads-up last year with Harckham’s plan, if they were paying attention, since he introduced it in 2021 through conventional legislative channels. The same cannot be said of the TOD bill, which blindsided most people in the state.

Last Thursday evening, Gov. Kathy Hochul correctly removed them from her budget so those proposals – or others – can be properly debated.

However misguided it was for Hochul to stick them in her proposed budget, it had one very positive effect, intentional or not. It jumpstarted a regionwide, if not statewide, conversation on the need for more housing for those who don’t earn a six-figure salary but are a vital cog in the local economy and community.

For too long, policymakers at all levels have ignored the spiraling costs of housing in the Hudson Valley and throughout the metropolitan area, seemingly forgetful that you need people who pick up the garbage, work at the delis and diners, provide daycare for kids and many other tasks society takes for granted until no one’s there to do them.

There was hope that after Westchester County complied with the affordable housing settlement a little more than five years ago, that a model was in place to gradually start closing the gap between supply and demand. A good-faith effort was put forth by many of the county’s municipalities by passing some form of Westchester’s model ordinance that required 10 percent affordable units for subdivisions.

What is now evident since Westchester met the settlement’s deadline is just how woefully deficient it has been. In 2004, a housing needs assessment from Rutgers University revealed a need for about 10,700 additional units. Fifteen years later the next assessment showed the need grew to 11,703. And Westchester is just one of 62 counties in New York.

There is no shortage of ideas out there that aren’t the ADU or TOD proposals. Many local officials still want local control, which when exercised responsibly is fine. But local control can’t be a euphemism for no.

Some have suggested a state task force to explore the range of possibilities. That could be a good place to start. Other states have enacted meaningful legislation that is not the draconian elimination of single-family housing seen in communities in California. A review of sensible policies elsewhere should be undertaken. Incentives can be offered.

Perhaps one possibility is for the state to require that each county, based on its population and needs assessment, make headway to reduce its affordable housing shortfall. For those communities within a county that have developed more affordable units and ADUs already, their share could be proportionately lower based on their population and what has been developed.

Whatever solutions emerge, this challenge must be viewed as a shared responsibility by all communities, not as punishment. Everyone has a stake in having a well-rounded, diverse community – with diversity not just being racial but economic, white collar and blue collar and generational as well.

Otherwise, don’t complain if there’s no one to prepare your burger deluxe at the diner one day.

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