The Governor’s Housing Plan and Upstate’s Need for New Housing

Governor Kathy Hochul’s goal of building 800,000 new homes in New York in the next decade is good. We need new housing—a lot of it—in communities all across New York State for all kinds of different reasons, and her New York Housing Compact will help build a lot of new housing. As proposed, however, her plan might only make an impact Downstate. We need this statewide housing policy to build new homes in communities like Syracuse too,

In a place like Syracuse, we need new housing for at least three big reasons: the housing stock we have now doesn’t meet people’s modern needs, a lot of it’s in terrible shape, and certain neighborhoods don’t have enough housing for all the people who’d like to live there. The housing we’ve got now doesn’t fit the housing we need, and this mismatch is bad for affordability, it’s bad for public health , and it’s bad for racial and economic segregation.

Downstate has a lot of the same problems, but they are all conditioned by the overwhelming demand for housing down there. They need new housing for all of the reasons we do, but they also need a lot more housing in order to alleviate their sever housing shortage and make room enough to accommodate all the people who want to live there.

The Governor’s proposal is designed to address the New York City metro area’s housing shortage more than the statewide need for new housing. Its central policy is a builder’s remedy—basically a streamlined permitting process for new construction in instances where exclusionary zoning blocks new housing. It’s a policy that will definitely help Downstate, but which could also address the need for new housing in Upstate’s metropolitan communities, like Syracuse, where exclusionary zoning contributes to our housing problems.

But that builder’s remedy only goes into effect if there’s little or no new housing construction in a particular municipality. Downstate, projects can take advantage of the remedy when proposing new construction in a municipality that’s seen less than 3% growth in its total housing stock over a 3-year period. Upstate (in this instance, anywhere not served by the MTA), the builder’s remedy doesn’t go into effect unless new housing construction falls below 1% in any municipality over a 3-year period.

In Syracuse, that 1% threshold will probably work out to about 200 new housing units per year. In Salina, it’s more like 50. In DeWitt, about 40. These are tiny numbers, and they are well below what we need to build in order to actually address the problems that new construction can solve.

There’s a lot to like about the Governor’s housing proposal. The design of the policy is sound. The full plan also includes other good things like a new lead testing and remediation program and more funding for mixed-income housing Upstate.

But the plan’s core goal—to build hundreds of thousands of new units—won’t do much Upstate if the builder’s remedy only works in municipalities with New York City-sized housing shortages. We need either lower targets for new construction, or some other metric—like a shortage of affordable housing—to trigger the policy if it’s going to make a difference in a place like Syracuse.