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Hochul wants 800,000 more homes in New York over 10 years. She explained how in her budget message

construction of connected
Adobe Stock
This stock photo shows townhome style construction.

Gov. Kathy Hochul is facing early pushback to her statewide strategy to ramp up housing construction.

Hochul is trying to address the lack of available and affordable housing across New York state. Her goal of 800,000 new homes in 10 years would double the rate of housing growth that New York saw in the last census.

But while proposing aid and developer incentives, she also has outlined a process for the state to intervene if locals fail to act. And that is raising alarms, particularly in the suburbs.

“It comes down to the state wanting to override municipal control of zoning,” said Pittsford Town Supervisor Bill Smith. “And that is a bad idea for the people of every town that it would affect — which is every town in the state.”

Hochul provided further details on the housing strategy in her annual budget proposal Wednesday. That included plans to require all localities to submit housing creation and zoning data.

The governor says she is mindful of the challenges, from the cost of extending sewer and other services, to the interplay between communities, service providers and schools.

Pittsford Town Board member Stephanie Townsend likens it to a spiderweb.

“If you put a vibration on one string of that web, it is going to ripple across and have impacts elsewhere,” she said.

Hochul has promised the state will help, tapping into a $250 million infrastructure fund and $20 million planning fund.

From the archive: Will Hochul's 2023 plans come with a big price tag?

“I'm committed to this. I'm in this for the long haul,” Hochul said of the proposal during a recent stop in Rochester.

There is urgency. Rising rents and a limited supply of all types of housing are hurting the state’s ability to attract and retain people and businesses, Hochul said. Her plan sets a target of 1% growth in three years for communities upstate; 3% for downstate.

A community failing to meet growth targets, create an “action plan” to clear zoning or other hurdles “will be
considered non-compliant and will be required to approve proposed housing developments that meet certain affordability criteria within a set timeframe,” budget documents state. Or developers could pursue a “fast-track appeal” through the courts or to a proposed state housing board.

The pushback from Smith and others should have been expected. A similar push on a much-less ambitious housing initiative by Hochul last year drew widespread opposition.

“Home Rule is a very, you know, is a bedrock of local municipalities here,” said Brighton Supervisor Bill Moehle. "And I want to make sure that local land use control is still the norm.”

Moehle otherwise supports the idea, or at least the goal. Brighton has one of the nation’s hottest housing markets and a diversity of owner and rental units that Moehle said he would like to see further diversified.

He estimated that increasing Brighton’s housing stock by 1% would require adding 100 units. He was unsure how that compares to the town’s current growth. Smith was similarly uncertain, as were city of Rochester officials.

In Brighton, 56% of adult residents own their homes. That compares to 37% in Rochester; 86% in Pittsford. Someone looking to develop apartments in Pittsford today would find no place to build without changing the zoning.

Change is coming, town leaders say, including to allow apartments over retail on Monroe Avenue.

But getting to this point has involved years of discussion and community meetings — revamping the comprehensive plan and revising the zoning code. The latter process is still ongoing.

“I would encourage the governor to harken back to her 12 years in municipal government,” Townsend said. “Good planning processes take time. … That should not be short circuited to meet an arbitrary deadline. At the same time, people need housing now. So I recognize the urgency.”

Brian Sharp is WXXI's investigations and enterprise editor. He also reports on business and development in the area. He has been covering Rochester since 2005. His journalism career spans nearly three decades.