More than 50 communities around New York have reached out to the state about the $650 million Pro-Housing Communities Program, RuthAnne Visnauskas, commissioner of the state’s affordable housing agency, said Wednesday.
They include a handful on Long Island, according to the agency, which did not identify which municipalities had expressed interest in applying.
The program, announced in August, marked Gov. Kathy Hochul’s shift toward an incentive-based approach to promoting new housing.
Visnauskas, who leads New York State Homes and Community Renewal, spoke Wednesday at the New York Housing Conference’s annual awards event during a discussion focused on boosting housing supply at the New York Hilton Midtown in Manhattan.
WHAT TO KNOW
- A top state housing official said about 50 communities around New York have reached out about Gov. Kathy Hochul’s $650 million Pro-Housing Communities Program.
- Several Long Island communities were among those that have expressed interest.
- The program, introduced in August, marked a shift toward incentives to build housing and away from mandates to achieve building targets.
Just a year ago, at the very same event, Hochul previewed her housing plan, which proposed support for 800,000 new housing units over the next decade, about double the pace of housing growth over the previous decade. The governor’s failed plan would have required municipalities in downstate New York to increase the number of housing units by 3% over three years.
“The [housing] supply issue is going to continue to be a focus of the governor,” Visnauskas said. “It is absolutely imperative that we increase the amount of housing in New York City and New York State.”
Under the original plan, if towns had failed to meet targets, developers in those areas could have appealed local zoning decisions that prevented them from building to a state board. Another aspect of the plan would have given local governments three years to rezone areas within one-half mile of MTA rail stations, including the Long Island Rail Road, for denser housing. Republican lawmakers on Long Island united in opposition to Hochul's plan and it was dropped from the final budget.
In August, the governor introduced $650 million in discretionary funds for what she called “pro-housing communities.” Downstate areas that have increased the number of units in their communities by 1% in the previous year or 3% over the past three years would be eligible. They will need to submit documentation about new housing, which includes private development, to receive priority for existing state funding sources, such as the Long Island Investment Fund.
Some Republican lawmakers last year said they were not opposed to new housing but to the governor’s top-down approach, which could have stripped local governments of their control over local zoning policies.
On Wednesday, Visnauskas invited local officials to apply for funding. “To all those that said, ‘Just give us an incentive.’ Please call.”
State Sen. Brian Kavanagh, who represents lower Manhattan and chairs the Senate housing committee, said he is skeptical an incentive-based approach to housing will be effective, calling it “necessary but not sufficient.”
Kavanagh said one area the Senate may focus on is support for redevelopment of commercial properties into housing.
At a recent retreat for Senate Democrats, Kavanagh said “there was a lot of interest in converting commercial properties in the suburbs — corporate headquarters that are no longer in use and other things.”
He added: “I think we can and should do a tax break to facilitate commercial conversions and ensure there’s some affordability in them.”
Ralph Fasano, executive director of Medford-based affordable housing developer Concern Housing, said it can sometimes take years to win over elected officials and community members to secure affordable housing.
The nonprofit, which has developed apartments in areas such as East Patchogue, Lake Ronkonkoma and Riverhead, is in the process of building a $72.4 million, 96-unit building in Hempstead village. Another project, the 50-unit Liberty Gardens in Southampton, is seeking a zoning change from the Southampton Town Board.
“On Long Island developments are very dependent on local politics — who shows up at the political meetings, the civic centers, the civic associations and what they say, and the elected officials are very influenced by those people,” Fasano said. “Many of the people who support what we do don’t show up.”
Fasano said he could see incentives working to boost housing if they were substantial enough.
A program "that really offers very substantial incentives almost acts like a mandate in disguise, where towns and villages start to realize that they're missing out on a lot of money for infrastructure,” Fasano said.
Correction: Concern Housing reduced the number of proposed units at Liberty Gardens in Southampton to 50 earlier this year. A previous version of this article incorrectly described the number of proposed units.