David R. Jones (137830)
David R. Jones Credit: Contributed

Another state budget season passes in New York, and yet again, Albany shows where its priorities lie. 

It is customary for the state budget deadline to bring with it stories in late April — late May this year — chronicling what did and did not make it into the adopted budget. But even with a negotiation process as opaque as it is in New York, we learned that housing policy was “out” very early on in the process. What’s more interesting than what New York policymakers didn’t prioritize, is what other states did. 

Some states have a considerable lead when it comes to using their powers to take housing affordability seriously. Since the 1960s, Massachusetts has streamlined the process for affordable housing developments to overcome local zoning, especially in the most unaffordable communities. Chapter 40B and 40R laid the foundation for a smart approach to overcoming local obstruction to affordable development. 

Simply put, the laws give affordable housing projects proposed in localities not meeting their affordability responsibility (those with less than 10 percent affordable units) the ability to utilize a simplified permitting process through a single authority and appeal denials of permits with a state Housing Appeals Committee. And a range of incentives are provided to promote transit assessable affordable unit construction. 

More recently, upon receiving Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) funding from the federal government, Massachusetts decided to prioritize public housing and other assisted households. This bold move was a part of a trend across the country, as states looked for ways to target those more impacted during the pandemic. This is the opposite of New York’s policy of putting public housing at the back of the line for ERAP. 

Consider this: California passed a “Just Cause Eviction” bill in 2019, which limited landlords’ ability to terminate leases for tenants that lived in a unit for at least a year. To prevent large rent increases as a workaround, the bill capped rent at the lesser of five percent plus Consumer Price Index (CPI) and 10 percent. The bill exempted buildings built within the last 15 years. This is just the recent step taken by California to address the housing affordability crisis. Not only has the state provided numerous ways for developers to bypass local zoning to build Accessory Dwelling Units, in 2017, the state essentially ended single family zoning and took steps to streamline affordable housing in a way that’s similar to Massachusetts. 

In Colorado, a sprawling land-use bill passed in the State House earlier this month. The bill would lead to greater density in many areas of the state that currently allow only single-family homes. Despite pushback and amendments to the bill to create exceptions for specific locales like ski towns and small and underdeveloped areas, the bill is making its way through the legislature. 

Similarly, Washington State’s House of Representatives passed a bill effectively banning single family zoning in a 75-21 vote this March. The bill legalized duplexes and or fourplexes in every neighborhood and gives a density bonus for projects with a certain percentage of affordable housing units. A month later, the Washington State Senate voted 35-14 to pass the bill with a number of amendments to make it more lenient on small towns. This bill is a major step in helping the state increase its housing supply and diversify neighborhoods across the state. 

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law this March banning local governments from adopting rent control, providing regulatory relief for projects where 40 percent of the units are affordable for at least 30 years, offer $711 million dollars’ worth in tax credits, and other zoning reforms. While the increased tax credits and regulatory relief will have some positive effect on the construction of new units in the state, the ban on rent control is a devastating policy change. It goes to show that all interventions by states into housing policy aren’t positive. Still, DeSantis and the Florida legislature certainly realized that ignoring the issue was unacceptable. 

Surveys show year after year that affordable housing is a top concern for New Yorkers. The good news is Albany can still act to address unaffordability: We have a `Good Cause Eviction’ bill in S3082/A5573, ready to protect millions of tenants; a version of Massachusetts’ 40B in S7635/A8883, already modified to fit New York and address fair housing across the state; and, S221/A3353 (Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act) that would give tenants the right of first offer and right of first refusal when their building goes up for sale, creating potentially over 20,000 social housing units across the state over the next five years. 

All of these bills can be passed outside of the budget in the five weeks between now and the end of the legislative session. 

Lawmakers must decide whether New York’s place as “the most progressive state” will languish as an amusing moniker or if we will lead the nation again in tenant stability and the creation and preservation of affordable sustainable housing in the decades to come. 

David R. Jones, Esq., is President and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York (CSS), the leading voice on behalf of low-income New Yorkers for more than 175 years. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. The Urban Agenda is available on CSS’s website: www.cssny.org.

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