Gov. Kathy Hochul wants communities to build more housing, and she believes new houses and apartments within walking distance of train stations are key to that plan. But many LI leaders argue that they should have the final say. NewsdayTV's Steve Langford reports. News box Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

Gov. Kathy Hochul wants to build more housing across New York state, and she believes new houses and apartments within walking distance of train stations are key to that plan.

Hochul set a goal of 800,000 new housing units in the next decade in her State of the State address earlier this month and said her plan is "laser-focused" on what's known as transit-oriented development. In doing so, she highlighted Long Island and Westchester for lagging behind other U.S. suburbs in approving new housing.

"Our investments in our world-class commuter lines have connected more people to jobs and created vibrant downtowns," Hochul, a Democrat, said in the speech. "That's why it makes so much sense to build new housing in those same areas."

But Republican Long Island lawmakers lined up to defeat Hochul's plan last week over objections to the way the state would increase its control over approving new development.  

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Forcing localities to allow denser housing development around LIRR stations is a key element of Gov. Kathy Hochul's proposal to increase housing units.  
  • Republican politicians denounced the plan last week, saying control of development should stay in local hands.
  • Housing advocates called on leaders who seek to defeat Hochul's plan to come up with their own solutions to remedy Long Island's housing shortage. 

“We all agree that we have an affordable housing problem,” said Republican State Sen. Dean Murray, whose district office is in Patchogue, which has received praise for its downtown revitalization. “What we don’t agree on is how to fix it. We believe … keeping it local for very real reasons is the way to go.”

Here's what is at stake:  

The plan

Hochul’s plan gives local governments three years to rezone the area within one-half mile of MTA rail stations, including the Long Island Rail Road, to allow 25 housing units per acre unless they already meet that target.

The initiative is part of a push for transit-oriented development, or the creation of mixed-use buildings near transit facilities to enhance an area’s walkability. The potential benefits include greater use of public transit, reduced car traffic and greater housing choices, according to research published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

800,000 Gov. Kathy Hochul's goal of new housing units in the next decade

It is one element of Hochul's goal to increase the number of housing units on Long Island, as well as New York City and the Hudson Valley, by 3% over the course of three years. If localities don’t meet that goal, and don't take certain steps to remedy the issue, developers could appeal to a proposed State Housing Approval Board. At that point, the state could greenlight mixed-income, multifamily proposals even if they don’t meet local zoning standards. Municipalities would have to object for health or safety reasons to defeat an appeal.

The state’s rationale

Hochul has noted the state has created 1.2 million jobs in the past decade but built only 400,000 new housing units. More than half of renters statewide pay 30% or more of their income toward rent. On Long Island, home prices set records last summer, while the number of homes for sale remains close to the lowest it has been in at least 20 years.

“People want to live here. They have jobs here. Because of local decisions to limit growth they cannot,” Hochul said in her State of the State speech.

30% More than half of renters statewide pay 30% or more of their income toward rent

Nassau and Suffolk have trailed the rest of the metro area in creating new homes. Among 32 counties in New York City and its suburbs, Suffolk ranked 32nd and Nassau ranked 31st in the number of housing permits issued from 2010 to 2020, according to a Regional Plan Association report last year.

The response

On Tuesday, Republican town leaders gathered on the driveway of a gray stucco colonial-style house in Manhasset, speaking at a lectern adorned with a poster titled “Save Our Suburbs.” The poster featured a house sandwiched between two apartment buildings, with car traffic out front and a smokestack spewing black fumes in the background.

Hempstead Town Supervisor Donald X. Clavin Jr. said the purpose of the event was to “express our outrage at Governor Hochul’s attempt to really take the suburban dream and make it an urban nightmare.”

32 Suffolk's rank among 32 counties in New York City and its suburbs in the number of housing permits issued from 2010 to 2020, according to a report. Nassau ranked 31st.

He and other speakers criticized the plan at that location, which is adjacent to a parking lot for Manhasset Secondary School, because it is within one-quarter mile of the hamlet’s LIRR station. Under Hochul’s proposal, the Town of North Hempstead would have to rezone the area to allow multifamily buildings if it does not meet the state’s goal of 25 units per acre, including houses and apartments.

North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena said Hochul’s plan would result in more traffic, overcrowding in schools and strains on emergency services and the environment.

“While I agree that affordable housing is a necessary priority for all levels of government, jeopardizing the quality of life in existing neighborhoods through a one-size-fits-all, target-driven proposal is a poor way to accomplish that goal,” DeSena said.

When asked whether she is in favor of seeing more housing development in her community, DeSena said she couldn’t say without knowing the details of a specific proposal. “It’s putting the cart before the horse,” she said.

Hochul’s plan includes $250 million for infrastructure improvements. Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino, also a Republican, said state funding to help local governments spend on parking garages, repaving roads, sanitation systems, garbage trucks and sewer upgrades would be welcome.

“There’s so many ramifications the [local] taxpayers have to pay for,” he said.

Allan Gibson, 31, who lives a few doors down from where leaders rallied Tuesday in Manhasset, said he would be opposed to the governor's plan allowing new apartment buildings to be built in his neighborhood. Gibson and his wife moved to Manhasset from Plainview this past summer. 

“We specifically made a large financial investment in a home with the intention of renovating the home to get it to align and build the community up," he said. "The desire to put apartments by here — I don’t know where you would put them."

In Suffolk, Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone supports Hochul's plan, which he told Newsday will "address an issue that is critical to Long Island's economic future."

On Friday, more than a dozen Suffolk Republican lawmakers gathered to criticize the governor for overreaching into local affairs. 

Smithtown Supervisor Edward Wehrheim said his town has approved about 450 new units in the past five years, with 10% designated affordable. "We’re putting it in the right areas where it’s properly zoned” and infrastructure supports it, he said. 

The rebuttal

In response to Newsday's questions about local resistance, a spokesman for Hochul, Justin Henry, told Newsday the governor will work with local leaders and community members to bring her plan to fruition. The plan "meets the severity of New York’s housing crisis while providing flexibility to cities, towns and villages in meeting crucial housing goals," he said.

Sidney Joyner, speaking as chair of the Urban League of Long Island, said Hochul's plan represents an answer to a complex problem that includes rising homelessness and the displacement of families who are being priced out of their communities. 

“We find the local officials seeking to continue the promotion of divisive tropes on the housing crisis extremely troubling," said Joyner, who is also the director of real estate for Suffolk County.

The Long Island Housing Coalition, which includes community groups, housing nonprofits, developers and local homeowners and renters, is backing Hochul's plan. Members of the group said they were disappointed local officials didn’t propose housing solutions of their own as they denounced the governor’s plan.

Pilar Moya-Mancera, executive director of nonprofit Housing Help in Greenlawn, said she wants to see local leaders put forward their own plans. She noted it’s important new housing is affordable at a variety of income levels. “We need to make sure that these are not necessarily just market-rate,” she said.

Leah Jackson, a 28-year-old attorney who lives in Rocky Point, said she sees the governor’s plan as addressing the need for affordable housing and improving diversity in neighborhoods. She rents a one-bedroom house for $1,600 and commutes more than an hour to her job in Hempstead. She believes she won’t be able to find anything at a comparable price farther west.

“I notice a lot of my colleagues are moving off Long Island and honestly it’s a thought for me because I know the cost of living is cheaper elsewhere,” said Jackson, who also chairs the nonprofit Minority Millennials. “It’s not something I’m ready to do yet. “

 In addressing the housing shortage, officials shouldn't overlook local environmental concerns, said Rich Murdocco, an adjunct professor of economic development and planning at Stony Brook University. Long Island's housing growth has historically been constrained by the need to treat wastewater to protect the water supply from harmful pollutants, he said.

“To generate sustainable growth, you have to do it in a way that doesn’t poison your own well,” he said.

Public opinion

Long Islanders recognize the need for new housing but are split about how to achieve that goal. About 68% of Long Islanders think it would be beneficial for Long Island to have more affordable housing, according to a poll of 2,910 Nassau and Suffolk residents published this week and conducted by nextLI/Newsday in collaboration with Hofstra University and Productions Plus Research. About 18.9% said the current level is fine and 12.7% said less affordable housing would be beneficial.

Asked about housing near transit hubs, 43.7% said they would like to see more, 38.6% said the current amount is fine and 17.6% said they would like to see less.

There was even less support for dense housing, which the poll defined as apartments or more people living closer to one another. On that question, 20.2% of respondents said they wanted more dense housing, while 52.3% favored less and 27.5% were satisfied with the current amount. 

The context  

Despite a robust mass transit system, New York has lagged behind other states in land-use reform that would allow for more housing near stations, policy researchers at the NYU Furman Center for Real Estate wrote in a new analysis of transit-oriented development published Monday.  

Restrictive zoning rules have worsened New York's housing shortage and increased greenhouse gas emissions because of a greater reliance on cars, the report said. The benefits of building homes around transit would depend on what types of housing are built and where they’re located. 

The Furman Center noted states such as California, Massachusetts and Connecticut have promoted development near transit through a mix of mandates and incentives for localities to allow denser development in those areas.

The (recent) history

New York state’s recent efforts to spur housing development near train stations have fallen short. In 2021, then-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed the Rail Advantaged Housing Act to exempt certain development within one-half mile of Metro North and LIRR stops from environmental review but it required local governments to opt in and local governments to approve rezoning proposals. 

Last year, Hochul supported requiring local governments to issue permits for projects within one-half mile of transit facilities that would have added at least 25 homes or apartments per acre if the area was already zoned for residences. She also proposed a requirement that local governments allow accessory dwelling units, such as basement or garage apartments. Both proposals ultimately failed after opposition from suburban lawmakers, including Long Island officials.

What’s next

More details on the governor’s plan will emerge when Hochul proposes an executive budget in the next few weeks. The housing plan will be subject to negotiations with the State Legislature. The deadline to pass a state budget for fiscal 2024 is April 1.

Even if transit-oriented development measures are approved, new obstacles to adding housing could emerge. After California passed a law around accessory dwelling units, some local governments added onerous fees or difficult review processes, the Furman Center noted. 

CORRECTION: The status of the Rail Advantaged Housing Act proposed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was incorrect in a previous version of this story.

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