Areas near train stations, like the area near the Long Island Rail...

Areas near train stations, like the area near the Long Island Rail Road station in Westbury, were the focus of Gov. Kathy Hochul's original housing plan. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

Gov. Kathy Hochul was right when she said: “Every New Yorker deserves access to affordable housing, whether they are at risk of homelessness or simply struggle to pay the rent on time each month.”

Unfortunately, her plan to address the housing shortage is flawed, probably influenced by the more than $8.9 million she received from landlords and developers.

Yes, New York has a housing shortage, but the most significant shortage is in housing for the 8.6 million poor and low-income New Yorkers either homeless or housing insecure because of poverty. On Long Island, zoning regulations overwhelmingly favor single-family housing, leaving too few rental units for people who can’t afford to buy a house. As the Regional Plan Association, Long Island Community Foundation and Ford Foundation found in their 2013 study of Long Island’s rental-housing shortage:

56% of renters pay more than 30% of their income for housing.

64% of Long Island renters cannot afford a typical two-bedroom apartment.

55% of 20-to-34-year-olds live with their parents or other older relatives.

Over a quarter of all rental homes on Long Island are concentrated in 10 communities.

These figures are even higher today, since rents and the cost of living generally have increased since 2013, wages largely have remained stagnant, and affordable housing construction has been negligible.

There are an estimated 5,000-plus people currently homeless on Long Island. This doesn’t include the precariously housed, who are couch-surfing with friends or family, at risk of eviction, or in jails or hospitals with no place to go when they’re released. The lack of affordable housing for poor and low-income people on Long Island has reached crisis proportions. Low-rent multiple-unit housing is needed desperately. Renters also need protection from greedy landlords. Since the end of the pandemic eviction moratorium, rents are spiking, evictions are soaring, and homelessness is at an all-time high.

The governor’s plan would give developers an incentive to build housing, regardless of price, putting the cost of new infrastructure, schools, and other services for the increased population onto the backs of local taxpayers. Developers should be required to pay their fair share of taxes. Tax incentives should be given to builders of low-cost housing only — and that needs to be defined. The term “affordable housing” as it is now defined is not affordable for most poor and low-income people.

A bill introduced in the State Legislature this year would create a statewide Social Housing Development Authority with the power to build and preserve high-quality, affordable housing across the state, which would be less costly than our present shelter system as seen in places where it’s been done, most notably Austria, Finland and British Columbia.

Many people will still need rental assistance to keep their rental expense to 30% of their income, as recommended by federal guidelines, and this should be provided. Some will need services for problems like mental health issues and addiction, though studies show these problems sometimes resolve themselves once a person is assured of stable housing.

Since building construction takes time, we also need to support legislation to protect tenants’ rights now, including measures to prevent landlords from evicting tenants without good cause, guarantee tenants the right to legal representation during an eviction proceeding, and create a rental subsidy program for New Yorkers who are homeless, facing eviction, or at risk of losing their housing.

Housing is a human right. Let’s put pressure on the governor and legislators to do the right thing.

THIS GUEST ESSAY reflects the views of Susan Karbiner, co-chair of the Long Island Regional Committee of the New York State Poor People’s Campaign.

This guest essay reflects the views of Susan Karbiner, co-chair of the Long Island Regional Committee of the New York State Poor People's Campaign.

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