NY Gov. Kathy Hochul touts her latest plan: ‘carrots’ for housing

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By Dan Sears

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul sat at the head of a table underneath a brass chandelier in the state Capitol’s ornate Red Room on Wednesday, flanked by two of her top aides and surrounded by a dozen or so mayors from all corners of the state.

Then she pulled out a bunch of carrots.

“I’m told this is what you’re willing to eat to help build more housing,” she said to polite chuckles.

As part of her $233 billion state budget proposal, Hochul wants to offer $600 million in state grants and incentives — or “carrots” — to local governments that expand their housing stock or commit to pro-housing policies.

It’s all part of the Democratic governor’s broader push to create new housing in New York after a bruising defeat on the topic last year, when Hochul herself said that an incentive-based approach “will not make the meaningful change that New Yorkers deserve.”

In Hochul’s telling, she’s since been listening to feedback. In a charge led by suburban officials, state lawmakers and local leaders across New York roundly rejected her initial plan that would have punished local governments that failed to create new housing.

But lawmakers continue to insist that any housing deal this year needs to have new eviction protections for existing tenants, which Hochul has been reluctant to embrace.

“This is what they said they wanted,” Hochul said on Wednesday, clutching the carrots with their greens still attached. “They wanted carrots, and we have $650 million of carrots to put on the table, literally, and to tell them that this is available to communities that are willing to do what is necessary.”

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Hochul is pushing her goal of creating 800,000 new units of housing statewide over the next decade, which she said will help lower exorbitant housing prices — particularly in New York City, where rents have skyrocketed to new highs.

Her latest proposal, which was unveiled last month, would extend a Pro-Housing Community Program she launched last year.

The current program gives individual towns, cities and villages bonus points on certain state grant applications if they are deemed a “pro-housing” community. That can be achieved by proving their housing stock has increased by a certain percentage in recent years, or by passing a state-authored resolution committing to “enacting policies that encourage a broad range of housing development.”

Hochul wants to take the program a step further by making “pro-housing” certification a requirement for local governments that want to get certain grants, such as the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative, which offers $10 million to municipalities looking to redevelop their downtowns.

On Wednesday, the governor convened a public, highly scripted roundtable with some of the mayors of cities and villages that have already signed up for the program, including Poughkeepsie, Kingston and Croton-on-Hudson. So far, according to officials, 20 municipalities have received “pro-housing” certification from the state and another 60 have begun their applications.

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“I have to say that this opportunity brings hope to us,” Poughkeepsie Mayor Yvonne Flowers said. “I sit here and I watch families who are literally crying because now they have to leave their homes or there’s no place for them to go that they can afford.”

But left-leaning Democratic lawmakers continue to make clear that Hochul will have to support eviction protections for tenants if she has any hope of striking a broader housing deal with the state Legislature.

Sen. Julia Salazar of Brooklyn is sponsoring a bill that would require certain landlords to have “good cause” to evict a tenant, including nonpayment of rent or if a tenant negligently damages the property. The bill would also allow tenants to challenge rent increases that exceed either 3% or one-and-a-half times the regional inflation rate — whichever is greater.

“I think that creating more housing and trying to address the housing crisis in a comprehensive way makes housing supply and tenant protections inextricably linked,” Salazar said on Tuesday.

Hochul said she believes the issues of housing supply and tenant protections are “two different conversations.”

“I know people want to tie them together, that if you don’t do this, we won’t let you do this,” she told reporters after the roundtable. “That has never made sense to me. Let’s have two thoughtful conversations, but the No. 1 priority is to get more shovels in the ground to build more housing throughout the entire state of New York.”

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Salazar said she is glad Hochul is acknowledging the need for a conversation about tenants’ rights.

“I actually do appreciate the understanding that we can do both, right?” she said. “In fact, we must do both.”

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