Gov. Kathy Hochul announced of completion of Avalon Harrison near Metro-North...

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced of completion of Avalon Harrison near Metro-North station with 143 affordable units and easy access to trains at Avalon Harrison Transit-Oriented Development in Harrison on Aug. 7. Credit: Sipa USA via AP/Lev Radin

ALBANY — Despite outrage from their suburbs, New Jersey, California and other states took on their housing affordability crises with innovative approaches. Some of those approaches are now being studied by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul as she looks to make housing a legacy issue.

Like New York, several states faced opposition as they tried to create more housing to take on segregation and make their towns more affordable — by building town houses, condos, apartments and houses. Some states enacted legislation that overruled local laws and officials after it was clear that incentives such as state aid weren't enough to open up local zoning restrictions. In another state, developers went to court to force change.

The lessons learned by some states include the need for intensive communication with local residents and their elected officials; building coalitions with builders, academics, housing advocates and powerful lobbying forces such as AARP to show more housing can energize a community; and accepting that opposition will never fully go away.

“Increasing the housing supply in New York is critical, and I’m using every tool a governor has at her disposal to make an impact,” Hochul said in August.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Gov. Kathy Hochul is studying how New Jersey, California and other states took on their housing affordability crises with innovative approaches despite opposition.
  • Some states enacted legislation that overruled local laws to open up local zoning restrictions. In other states, developers went to the courts to force change.
  • The lessons learned in other states include the need for intensive communication with local residents and their elected officials and building coalitions with builders, academics and housing advocates.

The experiences in other states include:

  • In New Jersey, developers who were locked out of developing new housing for all income levels, along with advocates whose clients were denied affordable homes in the face of segregation, took to the courts. They won changes to zoning that the courts said was deepening segregation.
  • In California, the state in 2021 passed a law that ended single-family zoning and encouraged homeowners to build additions and backyard cottages.
  • In Massachusetts, a law allows local zoning officials to approve projects with more units than allowed by local zoning laws. If local officials reject a project, the state can overrule the decision.

Hochul spokesman Justin Henry said her housing effort is “influenced by initiatives in states like California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey that are well ahead of New York in increasing their housing supply.” Henry said the plan “is informed by decades of time-tested housing policies to help Long Islanders avoid devastatingly high housing costs and ensure that younger generations can afford to live in the communities where they grew up.”

One of the most studied cases of a transformative housing effort was in New Jersey’s Mount Laurel, one of many suburbs similar to communities on Long Island. Opposition to more housing in Mount Laurel was so fierce that it was a major campaign issue statewide in sending Republican Chris Christie in 2010 to the governor’s office, where he opposed several housing initiatives.

Opponents in local governments in New Jersey said more housing would bring crowding, more crime and higher taxes to educate more children.

Developers and housing advocates took to the courts. The result was several precedents and appeals from 1975 to 1983 to force local governments to ease their zoning laws and desegregate, followed by state legislation to enforce the decisions.

“In the end, they simply had to accept it because there was no legal way out,” said Douglas S. Massey, a professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the lead researcher in the study, “Climbing Mount Laurel: The struggle for affordable housing and social mobility in an American suburb.”

“It’s nice to offer a carrot, but if they don’t want the carrot, it’s hard to get people to go along. Sometimes you need a stick, like they did in New Jersey,” Massey said. “The study we did shows that all the terrible predictions about property taxes, crime rate and so on didn’t materialize.

“There is still lot of prejudicial feelings out there,” Massey added. “It’s hard to overcome them with mere facts.”

Today in Mount Laurel, officials agree more town houses, condos, apartments and homes contributed to the community, rather than urbanized it. A key to greater acceptance was intensive outreach to local officials and neighborhood groups to show more people could bring energy to the community, they said.

“I think it’s a win-win … not just for new residents, but for existing residents as well,” said Bill Giegerich, director of economic and community development in Mount Laurel Township.

“You don’t want to lose the future workforce,” said Michael Egenton, executive vice president of the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce. “You have to make it accessible, affordable, and you have to have some predictability in their overall quality of life — and that means affordable housing.”

In California, the state passed a law in 2021 known as SB9 that made it legal for a single-family zoned home to be converted to as many as four units and allowed new apartment buildings to be built in formerly single-family zones. In addition, California required that additions to homes and backyard cottages known as “accessory-dwelling units” be allowed by local zoning.

In Massachusetts, the Commonwealth in recent years made use of the “40 B law,” which provides a process in which local zoning officials can permit a developer to avoid some regulations, such as limiting the number of residents who can live in a housing project — a concept known as density — if at least 25% of units went to low- and moderate-income renters. If the local zoning officials reject the developer’s proposal under 40 B, the developer can appeal to the state, which has overruled local boards.

Massachusetts and California officials and many housing advocates say thousands of new housing units are being built under their efforts. But researchers who study the issue note the success, while real, is dwarfed by the immense lack of affordable housing that has built up over four or five decades under “exclusionary” local zoning.

“There are very few state programs to override local control in this country, and the ones that exist often have not had teeth,” said Gary Painter, a researcher into affordable housing while at the University of Southern California and now academic director of the real estate program at the University of Cincinnati.

“We can get really excited about the number of accessory dwelling units in California, and that’s good,” Painter told Newsday. “But it’s still not transformational.”

Other states found that opposition to housing projects may have been exaggerated by neighborhood groups in heated town meetings and in the media, when much of the populace embraces more affordable housing in part so their adult children to stay near home.

On Long Island, local leaders, including Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin, opposed Hochul’s initial housing plan, in part because he says she tried to dictate policy that should be decided on the local level.

But a state Stony Brook University survey in 2015 supports an effort to increase housing. The survey found that 62% of Long Islanders supported changing zoning laws to build an apartment in a single-family home. The survey, “Housing Choice and Affordability on Long Island and Beyond,” also found that 72% of Long Islanders felt young people leaving was a very or extremely serious problem and that 60% saw lack of affordable housing was a very or extremely serious problem.

Hochul’s first initiative was her omnibus “housing compact” to build 800,000 more housing units in the next decade in suburbs, around commuter rail stations and on unused state land. Her intent was to create a way for the state to greenlight housing projects that have been blocked by local officials. Zoning laws sometimes have been used to keep racial minorities from moving into predominantly white areas. 

The compact was blocked in April by opposition in the State Legislature and by local officials, led by several on Long Island who said it would urbanize their suburbs. Local officials strongly opposed her idea to allow a state panel to override local zoning to make way for new housing. 

This summer, Hochul met with local officials, state legislators and community groups to try to build support for her next housing initiative in January, when she is expected to reboot her “housing compact." She is also using executive orders to encourage municipalities to become “certified pro-housing communities” that would give them preference in $650 million of discretionary funding she can dispense.

“This is an opportunity,” Hochul said in August at the opening of a new apartment building near the Metro North commuter station in Harrison, Westchester County. "We can lean hard into these problems … but we have to have a housing plan that’s transformative and that meets the moment. And I need the Legislature to work with us.”

“I think the governor is coming up with a new plan,” said Westchester County Executive George Latimer, a Democrat. He has discussed his housing ideas with Hochul, and she attended a press event in August for the opening of an apartment building at the Metro-North train station in Harrison.

“We’ve been in Albany,” said Latimer, a former senator and Assembly member. “Nothing gets done the first time. … You come back, you reconfigure the plan and you sell it to legislators a little beforehand, and find voices in suburbia and upstate that will support it.”

Latimer suggested the new plan might better include input from local leaders to tailor goals to their local conditions. Too often, he said, suburbs are wrongly seen monolith of all-white, racist and exclusionary. He said there is an opportunity now to implement the housing initiative, although some communities will never cooperate and some politicians’ political perspectives may not be overcome in some municipalities.

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

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