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Column: Local representatives tell governor to keep it local when it comes to housing

“Gov. Hochul’s ambitious housing plan meets suburban blockade” was the headline last week in the Gothamist.

“Gov. Kathy Hochul’s plan to build 800,000 new homes over the next 10 years statewide is running into a familiar obstacle: suburbanites,” began the article.

It continued: “Already, local officials in Westchester County, the Hudson Valley and on Long Island are organizing against the central plank of the Democrat’s newly unveiled plan that would set housing production targets for every city, town or village in the state.

If a municipality misses the mark, the state could step in and approve new housing development, Hochul said.”

“Suburban leaders,” it went on, “have proved themselves formidable foes; last year they led an organized, sustained public pressure campaign to force Hochul to retreat on a prior proposal that would have allowed single-family homeowners to legally rent out apartments in their attic, basement or garage, regardless of local zoning. Now, the same political forces say Hochul is again overstepping, even though hardly anyone is willing to criticize the plan’s intent of providing housing in areas of the state that desperately need it.”

State Senator Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) was quoted as saying: “Look, do we need additional housing? Of course we do, but local control is critical.”

Earlier, after Hochul announced her “New York Housing Compact” in her “State of the State” address last month, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. (D-Sag Harbor) issued a statement saying that “as the chair of the State Assembly Committee on Local Governments, it is important to offer constructive suggestions now to implement the governor’s vision.” He said “the governor’s proposal alludes to the creation of a State board to overrule local zoning decisions and possible rollbacks to the State Environmental Quality Review Act. Both of these actions are ill-considered. The best way to create affordable housing is with carrots and not sticks and with incentives and not mandates.”

The districts of Palumbo and Thiele include Shelter Island, where the affordable housing issue has been very hot. The website realtor.com says the “median listing home price” on the Island was $1.8 million in December.

Our affordable housing situation is not unique to Suffolk County. Consider what’s happening on Nantucket, the island due east of Suffolk, part of Massachusetts, where an affordable housing battle has been going on.

An article in the Daily Mail last month began: “Plans to build an affordable housing complex in Nantucket remain in limbo after locals objected to the scheme, insisting the affluent island does not have the infrastructure or resources for the development.“ What’s been named Surfside Crossing would be condos and homes on 13.5 acres with, it said, “70 percent designated for people who live on the island year-round.”

“The governor proposes a 3% new homes target for Long Island over the next three years,” said Thiele. He authored the Peconic Bay Region Community Housing Fund Act, approved by voters in the last election — just barely on the Island — that is to be financed with a .5% real estate transfer tax to help first-time homebuyers, and has advanced a State Accessory Dwelling Unit Incentive Act.

“Our region has seen the greatest growth in population in New York State” and “has seen successive development booms, all while still protecting critical natural resources … Local communities do not need to be bludgeoned into action with mandates and state overrides of local decision making. A much more collaborative approach is necessary,” Thiele said.

Long Island Association CEO Matt Cohen said last month that “affordability is the existential crisis facing” this area “and it’s causing young professionals and others to leave because they cannot afford to live here. We must develop creative solutions now.”