Gotham Gazette

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Officials, Advocates Analyze Implications of Hochul's 'Housing Compact' on New York City

Governor Hochul, Mayor Adams & others at ground-breaking (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)

Last month, in her State of the State address, Governor Kathy Hochul proposed a “Housing Compact” to build 800,000 units of housing across the state over the next ten years. It is an ambitious plan that aims to tackle the state’s dire housing shortage by leveraging private development, setting mandatory housing creation targets, promoting density near mass transit stations, and easing regulations to bolster the state’s meager housing production.

On Thursday, a panel of government officials and other experts examined the sweeping implications that the proposal will have for New York City, where the housing crisis is acutely felt and where Mayor Eric Adams’ administration is pursuing its own complementary efforts to spur housing production. 

Thursday’s event was hosted by the NYU Furman Center, which focuses on housing policy, and moderated by Vicki Been, faculty director of the center and former deputy mayor for housing and economic development under Mayor Bill de Blasio. The panelists included Alicka Ampry-Samuel, regional administrator overseeing New York and New Jersey for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); Dan Garodnick, commissioner of the city’s Department of City Planning and chair of the New York City Planning Commission; Annemarie Gray, executive director of Open New York, a nonprofit pro-development advocacy group; and Cea Weaver, campaign coordinator of the statewide Housing Justice For All coalition that focuses on tenant protections and social housing. 

Ahead of the panel discussion, RuthAnne Visnauskas, Commissioner and CEO of New York Homes and Community Renewal, the state’s housing agency, pointed to the state’s desperate need for more housing as she highlighted the top lines of the governor’s plan. New York State has created more than 1.2 million jobs over the last ten years and only 400,000 units of housing; of those, New York City accounted for 780,000 jobs and 220,000 homes. Between the 2010 and 2020 Census, the state’s population increased by 823,000 residents, more than 629,000 of whom were New York City residents. But some parts of the state have seen drops in population, while many New Yorkers appear to be leaving the city based on the high cost of housing. 

Visnauskas said the governor’s plan assumes another 400,000 homes would be created over the next decade following the current trend, while the state creates a framework to build an additional 400,000. “We need to make up for decades of underproduction,” she said. “We need it to make sure that we can support our growing economy and we need it to make sure that there's more affordability for New York's housing and families.” 

The main strategies include setting housing unit growth targets for every three years of 3% for New York City and its suburbs and 1% for upstate; rezoning for transit-oriented development; easing conversions of commercial space into housing; legalizing and incentivizing basement apartments and other accessory dwelling units (ADUs); and establishing other new tax incentives for affordable housing. 

Visnauskas also cited studies from other municipalities to dispel concerns that increasing development would either lead to displacement and gentrification in the city or reduce property values in suburban counties. She did concede that the Housing Compact would be fine-tuned over time as the nitty gritty details are debated, discussed, and analyzed. “What we have proposed is not perfect,” she said. “We think it is a great framework.”

The governor’s plan will now be the subject of not only much public discussion and debate, but state legislative hearings and negotiations ahead of a budget that is due by the April 1 start of the new state fiscal year. Hochul, a Democrat who just won her first term in the governor’s office, must reach compromises with the Democratic supermajorities in both houses.

Each of the panelists at Thursday’s event praised the governor for taking the housing crisis head on, though they had varying concerns, predictions, and prescriptions for the state’s approach. 

“It allows for municipalities to have a vision and something on paper that they can start with,” said Ampry-Samuel, a former Democratic member of the New York City Council from Brooklyn. She did have one major concern, however. Hochul’s plan proposes exemptions from full environmental reviews in certain cases under the housing targets and transit-oriented development proposals. “When you get into certain communities, environmental justice issues are huge…So that piece of it makes me a little leery,” Ampry-Samuel said. 

There was agreement on the panel that the most impactful policy – a mandatory 3% housing growth target for the city and its suburbs every three years – may also be the most challenging.

“The thing which creates the most opportunity is the growth target,” said Garodnick, also a former Democratic City Council member, from Manhattan. “The thing which creates the most difficulty is the growth target.”

To meet that target, the city would have to build 360,000 housing units in a decade, a daunting prospect but one that Mayor Adams wants to surpass. Adams has announced several housing-related plans, including an initial plan in June titled, “Housing Our Neighbors: A Blueprint for Housing and Homelessness,” which did not include any numerical targets for housing, followed by his “Get Stuff Built” plan in December which set a “moonshot” goal of 500,000 units over ten years.

Prior to those plans, he announced the concepts for three major citywide zoning text amendments under his “City of Yes” plan, which Garodnick said would “complement” the governor’s plan. They are in various stages of development, with the one most focused on housing supply, Zoning for Housing Opportunity, expected in draft form sometime this year from the Department of City Planning. The administration faces the formidable challenge of adapting and applying that amendment to the city’s 59 individual community districts, each with varying permitted zoning uses, as well as, possibly, the governor’s proposed mandate for housing growth that applies on the community district level in the city.

“The thing that's going to be the most challenging is the growth targets not just in New York City, but in the New York City suburbs,” said Weaver. Housing growth in suburban counties has severely lagged behind suburbs in neighboring states because of restrictive housing policies on Long Island and in Westchester. The governor’s plan is already facing opposition from local elected officials, mostly Republicans, who say it will supplant local decision-making. Almost no one disagrees with the notion that the state must significantly ramp up housing supply.

Hochul’s plan comes with carrots and sticks. To help localities build more housing, the governor proposed funding to aid localities with planning and for infrastructure to support more population density. But, if localities fail or refuse to meet the housing growth targets, her plan creates a fast-track process to expedite zoning approvals. 

“We think there's a lot of synergy between what we are working on and have been working on and what the state is now proposing,” Garodnick said. He noted that the overall proposal incentivizes the Adams administration to advance its own citywide strategy, particularly the Zoning for Housing Opportunity text amendment that would encourage housing creation across the city, in low- and high-density areas, by increasing the floor area ratio for all types of affordable housing (on par with the current allowance for senior housing), expanding acceptable types and sizes of housing, making it easier to convert commercial buildings to housing, and reducing parking requirements. “Now if the state's proposals are adopted, that helps speed up our work in a real way,” Garodnick said, noting that the text amendment will likely head to the City Council for approval in late 2024. 

On that timeline, Been noted to Garodnick, it will only go into effect by mid-2025. 

“That's right, you got it,” Garodnick said. “They've got us on a clock.” 

The city and state will also benefit from federal support, Ampry-Samuel said. Last May, President Joe Biden announced a Housing Supply Action Plan to address the country’s housing shortage. “The federal government is, under this administration, doing everything we can to make it easier,” Ampry-Samuel said, noting that the federal plan echoes the state and city’s own efforts. 

The panelists did have recommendations to improve Hochul’s housing compact. 

Weaver said the plan should include core tenant protections such as a right to lease renewal, a right to negotiate rental increases, and particularly passage of the “good cause” eviction bill proposed by State Senator Julia Salazar and Assemblymember Pamela Hunter that would prevent exorbitant rent raises and protect tenants against evictions unless they violate their lease.

She also argued for a robust Housing Access Voucher Program (HAVP), proposed by State Senator Brian Kavanagh and Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal. “This feels like a no-brainer to me,” she said of the voucher program, which was recently passed again by the State Senate in the new session that began last month (it did not pass the Assembly last year and Hochul has not supported it). “This is something that we really deeply support and the real estate industry deeply supports, but it's not in this plan.”

Gray from Open New York said the lesson New York should take from other jurisdictions is creating strong mechanisms for enforcing the housing targets by allowing nonprofits to file lawsuits through a private right of action and stiff penalties for localities that delay projects on purpose. “That was something that we think is really important to get stronger so that this framework actually is effective, and there's accountability,” she said. 

Garodnick emphasized the need to reform the state’s environmental review process, which he said is “old and outdated” and often ends up “being a defense of the status quo, which is inconsistent with New York City's own environmental goals.” 

He said one of the larger issues is offering tax incentives to encourage developers to build more housing. Last year, Governor Hochul proposed a replacement of the expired 421-a affordable housing tax credit, but her alternative 485-w program was shot down by the Legislature. In her plan this year, she did not put forward another proposal, though she did include a four-year extension of the deadline for buildings to be completed in order to receive 421-a benefits. Hochul has indicated that she wants to negotiate a new program with the Legislature.

“We can do a lot of the regulatory work here and set up a framework which enables something to happen but if it does not pencil out, it won't actually get built,” Gardonick said of how development is financed. 

Without a tax incentive program, Garodnick said building affordable housing is “very difficult and I think history has shown that it's a very important incentive to actually get this done and to build, in particular, the affordable units that we want to build in the most expensive areas of the city.”

Ampry-Samuel said she would like to see an “intentional focus” on also funding the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), public housing home to roughly 400,000 New Yorkers. “If we could figure out a way to provide funding and prioritize the preservation of the most affordable housing stock that we have, I would love to see that,” said Ampry-Samuel, who oversees NYCHA in her HUD role and previously chaired the City Council’s public housing committee. Even when Democrats held the presidency and both houses of Congress over the last two years, they did not provide an influx of federal funding for much-needed NYCHA repairs. 

There was broad agreement among the panelists that the governor's plan will require buy-in from all stakeholders, from community residents to City Council members, and clear communication about the benefits it will have in the long run. 

Garodnick said the city is already taking that approach to the citywide zoning amendments. “Now I certainly feel a sensitivity to the dynamic that is at play on the other side,” he said, citing his experience in the City Council. “The pressures that Council members are feeling on this front, it's real, it is not just made up. It is hard for them to do these things. And so our primary role here is to shape an ambitious proposal which gets us to where we need to be, but also enables us to bring people along with us for this process.” 

Gray said the state needs to “be really clear and kind of take the temperature down of what this is.” “This is doable. This is actually not that crazy…and it really benefits so many people to have a world with more diverse housing options,” she added.

Even as housing growth has been sluggish in the city, it has also been inequitably distributed. Been of the Furman Center, formerly both a deputy mayor and city housing commissioner, pointed to a map showing that, between 2011-2019, only about one-third of the city’s 59 community board districts exceeded a 3% growth rate of housing unit permits issued every three years. The question, she asked, is how the city can build more affordable housing in areas that are well-resourced and amenity-rich but have had little housing growth — in part where the state mandates by community district and the transit-oriented development rezoning requirements would come into play.

Many local elected officials including City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and the borough presidents in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens have expressed support for aggressively pursuing housing growth, some issuing or pursuing their own housing plans. Speaker Adams proposed a housing agenda in December along with a Planning and Land Use toolkit to improve the city’s land use process. Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine recently released a plan to build 73,000 homes on 171 vacant sites in the borough. Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso launched a comprehensive planning effort for his borough in April last year, with a draft report expected this Spring. And Queens Borough President Donovan Richards has been staunchly talking about housing growth all over the borough for years, emphasizing that it is his top priority. 

The map, Garodnick said, illustrates the barriers to development in the city. “The state proposal and our city proposal are designed to enable more housing everywhere,” he said. If the Adams administration’s citywide strategy is successful, “you will see development flow naturally into the areas where we had so many barriers before, both in the higher density areas and in the lower density areas where we have seen very little happening because it has been blocked.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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