Gov. Kathy Hochul outlined several measures to allow for expanded development of affordable housing, pledging overall to add or preserve 100,000 affordable housing units over five years, including 10,000 units with supportive services.
“Every New Yorker deserves access to affordable housing, whether they’re at risk of homelessness or struggle to pay the rent each month,” Hochul said in her address.
The proposals come as homelessness has reached its highest levels in New York City since the Great Depression, according to the Coalition for the Homeless, and the lack of affordable housing in the city is the primary cause for homelessness. One report released last year found that the city met only 15% of the housing needs for people at risk of losing their homes.
The policies Hochul will change are in some cases obscure regulations that nevertheless have a profound effect on just how much housing the city can build in new developments, who is able to live in them and where those developments can go.
First, Hochul said she would propose new legislation that will create construction zones for multifamily buildings near train stops within commuting distance of New York City. The state would provide help to towns and cities in drafting ordinance changes, allowing for an influx of residents that will likely to touch off debate in suburbs that prefer lower density.
Hochul will also propose to repeal limits on maximum density of housing allowed in New York City, measured by floor area ratio, or FAR. State rules currently limit the city’s allowable FAR to 12. That means that, for example, on a 10,000 square foot lot — the area of about five typical city row houses — the allowable total housing area cannot exceed twelve times that, or 120,000 square feet. That’s equivalent to about 139 apartments, given city averages for unit sizes.
A 2018 bill that proposed to eliminate the FAR limit never made it out of state legislature committees, after spurring a backlash from some elected leaders who were concerned it would bring out-of-scale development to residential neighborhoods around the city. Hochul said her law would give the city “autonomy” to allow denser residential development “where appropriate.”
Hochul’s State of the State plan also details a change in tax rules that have been used by developers to save on taxes in exchange for building housing units. In the city, the 421-a tax abatement has allowed developers to claim significant tax reductions for building multifamily units that fall under city rent stabilization laws.
Currently, 200,000 units in the city fall under the 421-a umbrella. Yet the law allows developers building in most of the city to earn the tax savings if they reserve 30% of their units for people earning up to 130% of the local area median income — in some cases meaning that the units are deemed “affordable” but are home to people making six-figure salaries.
Hochul said she would propose a new tax abatement that would replace 421-a while creating housing units that are more affordable than the ones typically created through the program, and restructure developer tax incentives to use taxpayer money more efficiently. Hochul’s proposals also include creating an affordable homeownership option in new buildings.
Hochul said she would also propose legislation to allow for conversion of hotels and office towers to residential use, especially in Midtown Manhattan, and allow homeowners to build “accessory dwelling units” — such as converted garages and basements — to increase density in neighborhoods with large numbers of single-family homes.