Statement of Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. on Governor Hochul’s State of the State New York Housing Compact Proposal

As the author of the “Peconic Bay Region Community Housing Fund Act” and the sponsor of the proposed “State Accessory Dwelling Unit Incentive Act”, I applaud Governor Hochul’s focus on housing in her State of the State Address. I recognize that the State of the State only provides the broad strokes. The details will be included in subsequent Budget and Program bills. Nonetheless, 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.

The Governor proposes a 3% new homes target for Long Island over the next 3 years. First, no region has seen greater growth in new home construction in New York State since the 1990’s than eastern Long Island. Our region has seen the greatest rate of growth in population in New York State. The region has seen successive development booms, all while still protecting critical natural resources such as the Pine Barrens, farmland, and open spaces with thoughtful land use plans and creative preservation programs like the Community Preservation Fund.

What is clear from the experience on the East End, is that just building new housing units alone, in no way insures affordability. Market forces have overwhelmingly directed growth to seasonal and luxury housing. Those local families and workers seeking a place to live year-round cannot compete in the marketplace with those seeking a seasonal or luxury home. New construction alone will not insure affordability.

First if the Governor’s plan does not also include provisions that new home growth is also affordable, it will fail. These new housing units will become more seasonal luxury housing or AIRBNBs unattainable for local families and workers. Any new growth must be tied to affordability.

Regardless, with declining percentages of vacant land and continued stresses on water quality, transportation, and other infrastructure, we cannot build our way out of the housing crisis. We must have initiatives to make existing housing stock more attainable for local families and workers. This can take the form of financial assistance for these families such as shared equity programs, down payment assistance, and rental assistance to make existing housing stock more affordable. To have the essential workers our community needs, such as nurses, teachers, and firefighters, existing housing stock must also be part of the equation. Finally, in determining housing growth targets, local governments that have been leaders in building affordable housing, like East Hampton, should be rewarded, and get credit for what they have already accomplished.

Second, the construction of new housing units cannot succeed without the infrastructure necessary to make such development sustainable. This includes sewage treatment, innovative septic systems, public water, and increased public transportation opportunities. The Governor’s proposal of $250 million for infrastructure will not be nearly enough to address the infrastructure that we must provide across the state to make new housing sustainable.

Third, transit-oriented development is smart. It will get cars off the roads. However, my district has plenty of train stations, it just doesn’t have many trains. Getting the LIRR to provide even rudimentary commuter trains like the South Fork Commuter Connection has required extraordinary advocacy from local officials. Our pleas for even minimal infrastructure improvements, such as track sidings to increase commuter service, still remains unfulfilled. If we are going to encourage affordable housing near train stations, the Governor must match it with the funding to provide residents with real commuter service.

Finally, 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.

This past November, the residents in 4 East End towns proved the public will support affordable housing and will even vote to increase their taxes to do so. 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.

As the State legislative session proceeds, I look forward to working with the Governor to find the consensus and flexibility that is required to implement her housing vision.