‘We will wait no longer’: Hochul announces housing executive orders

Months after the governor and legislative leaders failed to come to an agreement on housing, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced several housing proposals – and received backlash from some labor entities.

Gov. Kathy Hochul

Gov. Kathy Hochul Official Flickr of Governor Kathy Hochul

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a slew of executive actions to address the state’s housing crisis at a press conference in Brooklyn Tuesday afternoon.  The announcement came months after the Legislature killed her ambitious Housing Compact plan and then pointed the finger at the governor for housing not getting addressed before the end of the session.

"New York's housing crisis isn't going away, and I'm committed to doing everything in my power to make New York more affordable and livable for all," Hochul said.

The executive orders will allow residential projects in Gowanus, Brooklyn, currently halted by the expiration of a developer tax break called 421-a to move forward with the same tax benefits, require all state entities to find areas for state-owned lands to create more housing, prioritize discretionary funds for housing and create a new portal for tracking housing data.

Hochul was joined by Gowanus state Sen. Andrew Gounardes, New York City Deputy Mayor Maria Torres-Springer, Fifth Avenue Committee Executive Director Michelle de la Uz and SEIU 32BJ President Manny Pastreich. The governor acknowledged the need for support from various housing stakeholders – including labor. “Doing nothing is not an option any longer. I want support from the local elected officials and the advocates. I need the advocates on my side and labor on my side to build the momentum as we head into the next legislative session,” Hochul said.

While delivering remarks, Pastreich said he’d heard concerns from members of the 32BJ union on the city’s affordability and asserted the governor’s actions would positively affect members – many of which, he said, live in 421-a affordable units. “When I talked to our members, they say first: ‘We need good jobs that support families (and) we need good jobs with health insurance.’ This development is going to do that, and that we are very thankful for, and it's an incredibly important part of this development,” Pastreich said.

New York Building Congress President and CEO Carlo Scissura also shared support for the governor’s plan. “Our state is desperate for housing, so much so that even incremental progress is welcome,” Scissura wrote.

But not all labor unions were not particularly happy about the governor’s announcement. Kevin Elkins, political director of the New York City District Council of Carpenters, retweeted a photo of Hochul’s press conference by her Press Secretary Avi Small and added: “Who's not in Gowanus? Any union construction worker.” State Sen. Jessica Ramos, who serves as chair of the state Senate Labor Committee, shared a similar sentiment. “Notably absent from today’s announcement are the inclusions of any labor standards. New York should not subsidize poverty wages as part of our strategy for tackling the affordability crisis,” Ramos said in a statement. “What good is new housing if the people who build it can’t afford to live there?”

Along with the city carpenters union, the New York State Iron Workers Association and the Cement and Concrete Workers District Council issued a joint statement condemning the governor’s plan. “We are disappointed in the Governor's decision to side with billionaire real estate developers over the hundreds of thousands of working men and women in the unionized construction industry. The legislature eliminated 421-a and rejected her carbon copy replacement for a reason: it does not work. Any real solution must include labor standards. We will be reviewing all options available to ensure good paying jobs are created on projects that receive millions in tax breaks,” read the statement.

When asked about the criticism of the plan from the carpenters and labor chair Ramos, a spokesperson for the governor pointed to support for the measure from 32BJ and the Building Congress. When asked about the opposition from labor at the press conference, the governor said her administration had “very productive conversations with the building trades” and the entities were aware of the wages that would be paid on the projects – which she asserted were in line with “stipulations that were in place before” and that she is “talking about each project case by case.”

Hochul has continued to reiterate that she will not stop in her attempts to address housing and reaffirmed that sentiment at the press conference. “We will wait no longer. We press on because New Yorkers need houses built now,” Hochul said. “As long as I'm the governor, I'm going to focus every single day on making New York State more desirable, more livable and more affordable.”