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Hopes fade for a state housing plan before the 2023 legislative session ends

Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks at the groundbreaking for a new affordable housing project in Brooklyn on Dec. 19, 2022.
Don Pollard
Gov. Kathy Hochul's Office
Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks at the groundbreaking for a new affordable housing project in Brooklyn on Dec. 19, 2022.

A program to address New York’s affordable housing crisis was dropped from the state budget, and Gov. Kathy Hochul and legislators are now dampening expectations that they will be able to agree on a comprehensive plan before the session ends in June.

Hochul withdrew a plan that included the building of 800,000 housing units over the next decade after some pushback from lawmakers.

Suburban legislators objected to a provision that would allow the state to override local zoning laws in some cases. Progressive legislators, including the chairs of the Senate and Assembly Housing Committees, said they wouldn’t agree to approve Hochul’s plan in the budget unless it also included tenant protections, including a measure known as the Good Cause Eviction law.

Now, with just over three weeks left in the session, the governor said she’s looking at alternative ways to get some of her ideas moving, including issuing executive orders.

“I think that there’s some low-hanging fruit that could be achieved,” Hochul said.

Hochul said she’s considering authorizing accessory dwelling units, including basement apartments or backyard “tiny homes,” to create more affordable housing. She said she also wants to convert empty office space, which has become available as more workers do their jobs from home, into apartment units.

“What opportunities I have as governor to find ways to create more housing,” Hochul said. “On state-owned properties, for example.”

The governor also said an expired program known as 421-a, which subsidized developers who agreed to set aside some units for affordable housing, perhaps could be revived for projects that had begun the application process before the program sunsetted in 2022.

So far, state lawmakers, including Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, are noncommittal about the governor’s latest ideas.

“If there are, quote unquote, low-hanging fruit, then we will certainly contemplate approaching it,” Stewart-Cousins said.

As for new tenant protections, Stewart-Cousins is ruling out passage of the Good Cause Eviction measure this year.

“The Good Cause bill as it exists will not pass,” she said.

Landlord groups are against Good Cause, saying it goes too far and will lead to an even greater shortage of rental units.

The Senate leader said she does want any comprehensive housing plan to include tenant protections, which are more important than ever as the housing shortage continues.

“We have so many tenants who are feeling quite vulnerable,” Stewart-Cousins said. “In the same way, we want to be able to help small homeowners, small landlords.”

She said there’s a “big ecosystem,” and she wants to achieve the right balance.

Stewart-Cousins and Hochul said they and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie continue to try to come up with a comprehensive plan that they can all agree on, and enact, next year.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.