Opinion: We can still make progress on housing affordability in 2024

Here’s legislation that can remove major hurdles to producing mixed income development and avoids further concentrating poverty.

The New York State Capitol in Albany

The New York State Capitol in Albany lavendertime / Getty Images

Although Gov. Hochul does not intend to revive her push for a housing compact this year, we can take many legislative actions to make significant progress on housing affordability in New York state. We must, at some point, return to a serious reconsideration of zoning and land use policies, but meanwhile, we can at least clear away some of the major hurdles to building multi-family housing in an affordable way. 

One significant area for focus is our environmental review system. Our current requirement under the State Environmental Quality Review Act is so broad that it almost inevitably causes costly delays and frequently derails projects entirely. Environmental review constitutes 11% to 17% of development budgets, which gets passed on as higher housing costs. Instead of serving to protect the natural environment, the process drives developers to give up on building infill housing in favor of more sprawl development. This is why I sponsor legislation with Assembly Member Anna Kelles to align the review processes with our state’s environmental and housing goals, promoting efficient housing construction and environmentally positive infill projects for walkable and transit-friendly communities.

Examining building design is another avenue for improvement. I carry a bill, also in collaboration with Assembly MemberKelles, allowing the construction of apartment buildings designed around single-stair entries rather than hotel-style corridors. New York City already permits such structures up to six stories; the same should apply across the state. These buildings allow more units on small lots, accommodate larger family-sized apartments, and decrease costs by maximizing the use of square footage for living space. 

The realms of financing and tax policy are also key areas for improvement. The Erie County Industrial Development Agency’s “Payment in Lieu of Taxes” agreement structure establishes an upfront affordability level and offers a better alternative than the one-by-one consideration of proposals available elsewhere. We can explore land value taxes, a type of taxation that encourages development and quality land use over speculation. I plan on introducing legislation in these areas in the near future. 

In financing, there are various alternative models across the country that serve as sources of inspiration. One notable example is the Housing Opportunity Commission in Montgomery County, Maryland, which is developing high-quality mixed-income housing with an innovative financial model. Another is the Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation in Massachusetts, which has long played a key role in supporting affordable housing development. 

The success of these efforts points to the importance of prioritizing mixed-income development instead of putting the bulk of state subsidy dollars into 100% affordable developments. While these are important, we can be more efficient and avoid further concentrating poverty by adding greater flexibility for funding mixed-income development. 

The need for better data is imperative. Passage of my bill S688 is essential to acquiring better information statewide on the construction and development of zoning maps recently developed on Long Island.

I hope we can learn from other states like California and bring together stakeholders, including labor, to craft a comprehensive package to tackle the supply side of New York’s housing crisis. This must be a multi-year, continuous effort, and there’s no better time to start than now.