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Hochul's housing plan questioned by lawmakers

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul tours Plattsburgh DRI sites
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul tours Plattsburgh DRI sites

Opposition from state lawmakers to Governor Kathy Hochul’s budget proposal to construct some 800,000 housing units across the state over the next decade was on display during a recent budget hearing. Republicans and Democrats question whether the plan is realistic.

New York State Homes & Community Renewal Commissioner and CEO RuthAnne Visnauskas’ testimony highlighted that, while the state may fund the plan, questions remain over what should be built or where. Visnauskas added that it will be left up to communities to figure out the infrastructure and complete funding.

"This $250 million is not meant to pay for or reflect the need for all of the water and sewer needs across the state and that there are a lot of other sources that pay for that," Visnauskas noted. "That said, we do want to work with communities that interested in putting forward plans that allow them to build more houses related to connections with water and sewer.”

Oswego area Assemblyman Brian Manteklow says there isn’t a need for new construction with so many properties sitting in land banks statewide that could be converted. The Republican said there is also a significant need to fund those land banks so that they are able to keep taking in properties. Visnauskas responded that the state is working to bolster land bank funding as well.

“So last year we received $50 million in the budget for land banks, and we worked really closely with all the land banks and the association to craft what they really wanted to see from that. We put out the first round of funding in coordination with them which was really for operational support, which is what they thought was the first need. And then we’re just about to release the next tranche of that money," Visnauskas said.

Senator Jack Martins, a Republican from Long Island, contends there is a lack of available land given the instructions in the plan to build several hundred units per square mile centered around transit centers. Martins says the timeline is too aggressive to enable transit development to keep up.

“Twenty-five thousand units around train stations. In Nassau County, we have over 50 train stations, which would amount to over a million housing units as of right as a result of this proposal," said Martins.

Assemblywoman Anna Kelles, a Tompkins County Democrat, said new housing construction also tends to go hand-in-hand with significant increases in rent. In light of initiatives that brought new housing to her district, she said the average monthly rent in her area had skyrocketed somewhere between 20 and 40 percent, adding new housing may not be the solution.

Manhattan Democrat Linda Rosenthal, Chair of the Assembly Housing Committee, shared her concerns about the number of rent-stabilized apartments having dropped so sharply over the course of the pandemic.

“l would say on units that are not registered or not in the system, you know, one of TPU’s main focuses is to make sure that units that fall out of the registration system get re-registered," Visnauskas said. "They get input from elected officials, they get inputs from tenants, they’ll accept referrals from anywhere… we have brought back over a hundred thousand units in the last 10 years.”

The Tenant Protection Unit is responsible for ensuring safe and affordable housing and ensuring that tenants are aware of and exercise their rights.

The housing issue is just one of a number of matters lawmakers and the governor’s office must hash out with a state budget due April 1st.

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