Gov. Kathy Hochul is ready to start handing out carrots to pro-housing communities – literally.
Hochul held a roundtable on Wednesday with the local leaders to announce the first 20 “pro-housing communities” approved to get priority grant funding under a program she started through an executive order last year. “I was told last year that people didn't want to be told what to do, not even gently suggested what to do,” Hochul said. But she said the 20 communities, including many represented at the roundtable, will now get first dibs at the “600 million carrots” to entice New York’s municipalities to build more housing. Hochul came equipped with a bundle of carrots as a visual prop for the $650 million in grant funding that pro-housing communities will get priority access to.
Although her ambitious 2023 housing plan to build 800,000 units of housing in 10 years fell apart last year, Hochul said the state is still on track to hit the goal she set in 2022 of building or preserving 100,000 units of affordable housing over the course of five years, but she said the scale is still too small. “We need communities to break down all the barriers they have,” Hochul said. She said, for example, zoning regulations are a “primary driver of why housing does not happen.”
According to the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal, the state has built or preserved 35,000 units of affordable housing since Hochul announced her $25 billion affordable housing plan in 2022.
The $650 million pot of state grant money the governor touted Wednesday represents a combination of a variety of different existing programs that Hochul has bundled together collectively for her “pro-housing” program. Currently, those communities that affirm their commitment to building more housing and prove that they hit growth benchmarks in the past will get preference in grant distribution. Hochul has proposed changing the program parameters to make a “pro-housing” designation a requirement rather than a preference for grant funding, but it’s unclear if or when such a change would actually occur.
The initiative got off to a slow start. Hochul first created the incentive program in July and released additional details on requirements in August. Wednesday’s announcement of the first approved communities came months after that. As of January, according to the Times Union, only 15 municipalities had formally applied for the “pro-housing” designation, with 57 having expressed interest in the program.
But now, local executives, who are in town for a conference of mayors and to give budget testimony, are showing more appetite for such plans after the initial malaise. Hochul said that the state received 20 letters of intent in just the past day, bringing the number of municipalities that sent letters to over 80.
“There were a lot of people across New York state who were skeptical about this, certainly people in our community who were skeptical,” said Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, whose city has submitted a letter of intent but not been certified. “You're building all these new apartments, who's going to rent them?”
Sheehan, president of the New York State Conference of Mayors, told the roundtable that the conference was getting behind the idea and that more municipalities would sign onto the plan.
“Our meeting two days ago was overwhelmingly positive,” she said. “The mood in the room, the voices in the room, were saying, you know the governor really got this right.” Several of the mayors and town supervisors shared concerns about the effects of a dearth of affordable housing, namely the shrinking workforce and resulting lack of investment from businesses.
New Lebanon Town Supervisor Tistrya Houghtling, whose town has received the formal “pro-housing” designation, said that her local businesses are struggling to find employees. “This is an opportunity to potentially get an investment from some of the developers that aren't looking at a small rural town, we don’t have our own water, we don’t have our own sewer, and it's hard to attract that,” Houghtling said.