Wide Angle: Priced Out, Part III

Expensive housing market vector concept. Unaffordable, out of reach price, market crisis, recession. Minimal design. Eps10 vector illustration.

In two earlier columns, I’ve written about the housing crisis and its implications for our region. In the metropolitan New York City area, one single-family housing permit is issued for every 34 new jobs, making the crisis more acute all the time. New York City issued fewer building permits in the past decade than it did in the 1960s, despite a massive increase in population.

Nationally, we’re about 4 million housing units short of what we need, according to some estimates.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has taken an aggressive approach to attack New York’s considerable dilemma: On one hand, the demand for housing — especially for low- and middle-income people — is sky high, while on the other there are major impediments to building housing, such as high interest rates and suburban zoning laws that block high-density complexes. New York has traditionally ceded a great deal of control over land use to local officials.

Hochul is proposing policies that would supercharge housing development along the lines of what has been done in California, Connecticut and New Jersey. In particular, she is taking a page from California ordinances that require municipalities to meet expansion targets. That is a direct challenge to the single-family-home zoning that has slowed new housing to a crawl in many cities and towns, including in the Highlands.

Housing development typically has been ever-larger single-family homes, renovations of industrial space and apartment buildings converted into expensive condos. What is needed is affordable, denser housing, as well as “missing middle” housing when you don’t have taller buildings, duplexes and townhouses. That would reduce the stress on low-income renters, a growing proportion of whom are “burdened,” meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities. 

Hochul has proposed a target of 800,000 new units in the next decade. To accomplish that, localities would be required to rezone areas within a half-mile of commuter rail and subway stations to allow more density. The plan also calls for all localities, including Beacon, Cold Spring, Nelsonville and Philipstown, to increase housing by a state-determined percentage. Because we are served by a Metro-North commuter line, housing in the Highlands would be required to grow by 3 percent annually for at least three years. 

Localities that fail to meet that mark would trigger “fast-track approval” by the state of developments that otherwise would be blocked by local zoning. The plan also calls for a replacement of an expired tax incentive for developers and $250 million to subsidize infrastructure development.

The proposal to circumvent local control has not gone over well, as The Current reported last week. Elected officials worry that one size will not fit all while pointing to developments already underway. 

The reality is that even with a significant uptick in housing, the situation will only improve slowly for low- to moderate-income people. That’s because there is so much demand that developers will continue to build market-rate units. Absent a commitment to denser neighborhoods, we will likely see the gentrification scenario play out repeatedly: Developers will build market-rate single-family homes or smaller apartment buildings and complexes with 15 percent or so of the units set aside for below-market-rate rentals. 

That leads to a scenario we know well: Rents rise as demand continues to exceed supply; lower-income residents are forced to move; and the neighborhood laundromat and the local dentist shut their doors.

The housing crisis is now four decades in the making. Hochul is attempting to break with the past, to arrive at a place where few are rent-burdened and where we can grow our communities to be more inclusive.

2 thoughts on “Wide Angle: Priced Out, Part III

  1. Developers build what makes a profit. New construction for “low- to moderate-income people” doesn’t often pencil out without government (or philanthropic) intervention. [via Instagram]

  2. Beacon built one kind of property: luxury. We begged City Council Member George Mansfield, we begged Mayor Lee Kyriacou and we begged previous mayors and previous council members to build reasonably priced properties for families. They did not listen. Beacon needs a new set of legislators. When do we hold them responsible for this overpriced, overtaxed, poorly developed city? [via Instagram]

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