How New York is addressing its affordable housing crisis

Local and state leaders at City & State’s 2024 Affordable Housing summit weighed in on efforts underway to build more, while protecting tenants and homeowners.

RuthAnne Visnauskas, Commissioner and CEO of New York State Homes and Community Renewal speaks at the City & State’s 2024 Affordable Housing Summit on Thursday at Hebrew Union College in Manhattan.

RuthAnne Visnauskas, Commissioner and CEO of New York State Homes and Community Renewal speaks at the City & State’s 2024 Affordable Housing Summit on Thursday at Hebrew Union College in Manhattan. Ralph R. Ortega

With affordable housing vacancy at a historic low, New Yorkers are experiencing a housing crisis. Despite creating nearly 1.2 million jobs in the last decade—only 400,000 units of housing have been built, with this year’s rent prices multiplying seven times over actual salaries. 

Within this crisis, lawmakers seem to come to a consensus regarding the state’s dire need for additional housing supply. At City and State’s Affordable Housing in New York Summit, experts weighed in on the state’s goals to increase both affordable housing, while protecting existing tenants and homeowners. 

RuthAnne Visnauskas, commissioner and CEO of the New York State Homes and Community Renewal, unveiled details of the state housing budget and executive priorities in her keynote address. 

By bringing over 15 proposals to increase housing supply through tax incentives and exemptions, the state budget package aims to build more mixed income rental housing, commercial to residential conversions, accessory dwelling units and build affordable and mixed-income housing developments outside of New York City. 

“Tax incentives are sort of a non-capital tool that we can use both in New York City and in New York State to drive the production of housing. We passed a new exemption called 45X, to replace what was the expired 421-a program to create rental housing in the city of New York, mixed income with permanently affordable rental units,” said Visnauskas. “We passed a tax exemption to allow commercial buildings to convert residential and require them also to have affordable units permanently affordable. We passed an extension of the existing 421-a program […] which we hope will unlock 1000s and 1000s of stalled projects.” 

Tax exemptions for accessory dwelling units will give opportunities for homeowners to create additional housing on their property, while providing homeowners relief through the value of additional apartments. Thanks to new capital funding, the state budget package will also aim to increase housing supply through new constructions and preservation projects. These include $150 million for a new middle-income rental and a new middle income Homeownership Program, $80 million towards Mitchell-Lama preservation efforts,  $70 million for public housing authorities outside of New York City, $50 million for land banks, $10 million for rural housing and $500 million for infrastructure that will support the development of nearly 15,000 units of housing on state owned land. 

Additionally, the state housing package includes more robust tenant and homeowner protection, from a “groundbreaking set of protections” which include protections for market rate renters in New York City. 

“The protections are really twofold. One is around price gouging, so your landlord cannot raise your rent more than CPI plus 5% which is about right now by 8.3%. So if you are a rental tenant in a market rate building and your rent is being increased higher than that you can go to court,” continued Visnauskas. 

Protections are also extended to unjust evictions, basement apartment legalization, measures against insurance discrimination, in addition to criminal and civil protections for homeowners and heirs from deed theft. Visnauskas also spoke of the state’s Pro Housing Communities Program, where localities can apply to get certified as a community to access discretionary state funds for housing developments. 

“There is $650 million available to localities through ESD through the Department of Transportation, through my agency. And those funds will only be accessible to communities that have actually been certified,” stated Visnauskas. 

Regarding the state’s housing package, panelist Leila Bozorg, executive director for Housing in New York called it a “watershed moment,” making way for tangible, aggressive solutions that will tackle the city’s growing affordable housing crisis. 

“We are in a moment now where there's consensus that housing supply is a much- needed tool, to address our broader affordability challenges. I think there is a really watershed moment around the types of solutions we need. There’s a lot more momentum, making it easier for elected officials and others to make these tough decisions about how to address our housing supply challenges,” said Bozorg.

Bozorg also highlighted upcoming projects to cut through zoning regulations—as part of Mayor Eric Adams’ City of Yes for Housing Opportunity.

“A huge part of what I'm focused on with Deputy Mayor Maria Torres, is how do we take really bold action to be able to build more, build faster, and really chip away at all the different regulatory barriers that we're facing […] to get the projects to move faster,” stressed Bozorg. 

Alicka Ampry-Samuel, regional administrator for the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development, gave details of the HUD’s collaborations with federal and local partners to increase affordable housing supply. 

“HUD is working with the United States Department of Treasury to help governments use state and local funds from the American rescue plan and with the United States The Department of Transportation to improve the coordination and housing of transportation planning through our thriving-communities initiative,” said Ampry-Samuel. 

Within the $1.6 billion allocated for New York, funding will go towards community planning and development, over $532 million in CDBG funds ESG home HOPWA, the Housing Trust Fund, emergency homeless assistance of which $303 million will be leveraged. 

Ampry-Samuel also highlighted available grant opportunities, some with approaching deadlines, as part of HUD’s Green and Resilient Retrofit program, which invests in energy efficient and climate resilient strategies for multifamily housing. 

“We also want to keep talking about equity, neighborhood choice and the racial wealth gap. Housing is a means to growth. It's a means to jobs. It's a means to stability, it's a means to educational outcomes. So being open to saying that with conviction is something that will drive change to bring greater equity and to stabilize housing for New Yorkers,” stated Visnauskas.