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State of the state: Hochul’s multi-prong approach to tackling New York's housing crisis

  • The governor proposes an early enforcement unit to tackle housing voucher discrimination
  • Hochul hopes to replace the 421-a tax abatement to spur affordable housing construction
Celia Young Headshot
By Celia Young  |
January 10, 2024 - 10:30AM
overnor Hochul delivered the 2024 State of the State address from a podium on Jan. 9th, 2024.

The governor plans to re-introduce a handful of initiatives legislators panned last year.

Susan Watts/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

Governor Kathy Hochul took another stab at an agenda to grow New York’s supply of affordable housing in her state of the state address yesterday—along with a plan to protect housing voucher holders from discrimination. 

The governor proposed legalizing basement apartments, converting commercial buildings to residential ones, replacing the popular tax abatement program 421-a, and constructing new apartments on state-owned land. Her plan also hopes to address New York City’s lack of affordable housing, which has put a strain on residents’ budgets. 

“The obscenely high costs of rent and mortgages are caused by the unconscionable shortage of housing in New York. It’s one of the forces driving people out of our state,” Hochul said. “The only thing that will solve the housing affordability crisis is building hundreds of thousands of homes.”

Hochul’s plan to stop source of income discrimination

Hochul also outlined a plan to help renters who use housing vouchers facing discrimination by landlords and brokers who refuse to rent to them. 

It is illegal to refuse to lease an apartment to a person based on their source of income, and you can report this behavior online. But it’s not uncommon to see landlords and brokers “flout state and local human rights laws by refusing to take our clients' vouchers,” says Jack Newton, director of public benefits at Legal Services’ Bronx office.

Hochul plans to tackle the issue with a new early intervention unit, intended to resolve complaints about housing discrimination for those using Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, according to a 181-page book outlining Hochul’s policies. It would also place “individuals and families in available housing to which they had been impermissibly denied access based on their vouchers,” according to a press release from the governor’s office. 

“The ability to act in real time” to place a voucher holder into an apartment  is crucial, says Robert Desir, a staff attorney with the civil law reform unit at Legal Aid. Renters have a limited window to use their voucher, meaning a slowdown in their search could cause their voucher to expire before they find an apartment. 

Both Desir and Newton welcomed the governor’s commitment to tackling source of income discrimination, with Newton saying he hopes the unit will “send a message to landlords everywhere that this illegal practice will not be tolerated."

A need for significant resources

Desir says that he’s still waiting for more details on what resources the Hochul administration will dedicate to the unit.

“In our investigations and in our work, we find no shortage of bad actors,” he says. “We'd love to see what resources are actually devoted to these efforts…There has to be real dedication and staff towards combating those practices.”

The unit will be created by the Division of Human Rights, which enforces the state’s human rights law, and New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), though it’s unclear when it will be up and running. Hochul’s office did not immediately respond to additional questions on the early intervention unit.

Cea Weaver, a campaign coordinator at the nonprofit coalition Housing Justice for All, criticized the effort as “little more than enforcing existing laws against voucher discrimination,” she said in a statement.

Insuring affordable buildings

Hochul will also propose legislation to prohibit insurance carriers from using a tenant’s source of income or the receipt of government housing assistance to determine whether to insure a residential property, or whether to increase their premiums, in the hopes of making affordable housing easier to insure and preserve.

Jay Martin, executive director of the landlord group the Community Housing Improvement Program praised the governor for targeting insurance companies, which he says “have been price gouging rent-stabilized housing providers for years and jeopardizing the well-being of millions of renters.”

Plans to increase development

Hochul also plans to increase the supply of affordable housing in the state through a handful of measures that failed to pass in the legislature last year. Perhaps the second time’s the charm.

She will once again propose a replacement to the 421-a program, which gives developers a tax break on projects that include rent-stabilized units, according to her policy book. Hochul also plans to try to extend the now-expired 421-a program’s completion deadline to projects that already began and were financed under the old abatement, even though legislators panned the idea last year. 

Three of the governor’s other proposals target NYC real estate. One would create a tax incentive program to convert commercial properties—particularly offices—into below market housing, aiding the city’s weak commercial real estate market and lack of affordable apartments at the same time. 

Another would give NYC more authority to legalize existing basement apartments, and a final pitch would increase the city’s cap on how dense residential towers can be. 

Hochul also proposed creating a $500 million fund to create 15,000 new housing units across state-owned sites in New York. Last year, she launched an incentive program to encourage local governments to increase their housing stock, and she plans to strengthen that initiative as well.

Celia Young Headshot

Celia Young

Senior Writer

Celia Young is a senior writer at Brick Underground where she covers New York City residential real estate. She graduated from Brandeis University and previously covered local business at the Milwaukee Business Journal, entertainment at Madison Magazine, and commercial real estate at Commercial Observer. She currently resides in Brooklyn.

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