In the end, Albany’s failure to address New York’s housing crisis in this year’s budget should not come as a surprise. Localism is deeply entrenched in our political system. Notwithstanding uncontroverted evidence that the lack of adequate housing is harming the economy by choking businesses of local talent and is causing workers and young families to depart for neighboring states, the political calculation — particularly in Westchester’s suburban communities —remains perilous. However, even in an environment of retrenchment, there are reasons for optimism. The stakeholders have clarified their concerns and the building blocks of reform may have emerged.
No one reasonably denies the need for more housing and its positive economic impact. In addition, there is a consensus that local land use and zoning is a crucial factor that needs to be addressed. Rather, those who argued strenuously against housing reform focused their reservations on fear of sprawl and loss of local control. But they did not challenge the basic necessity. And they offered some valuable insights. That counts as progress.
The Atwood, an upscale apartment building near downtown Pleasantville, was completed in March of this year. The complex, which has 71 units, was built on a street between the Metro-North Railroad tracks and the Saw Mill Parkway. Seth Harrison/The Journal News
One size does not fit all: First, housing growth targets are a reasonable approach if calibrated to local factors rather than a single-size-fits-all edict. Building upon that foundation, the state could mandate a process-driven approach to determine how much growth each municipality can absorb based upon a variety of local factors such as population density and growth, need for infrastructure, available land, relevant housing costs and income levels, and regional employment statistics.
SEQRA needs work: Second, the State Environmental Quality Review Act — SEQRA — needs to be streamlined. The law’s noble underpinnings are designed to protect the environment by avoiding hasty decision-making. But SEQRA has become weaponized by overuse and has morphed into a procedural quicksand of delay. Reform it by creating fast-track consideration for certain classes of development. Local governments can retain approval authority presuming they take some action (yea or nay) within a prescribed period.
Transit, transit, transit: Third, transit-oriented development — TOD — needs to be pursued. Increasing housing capacity near public transit hubs and commercial corridors is low hanging fruit. However, there are approaches superior to blunt circle-drawing around train stations and bus depots. For example, Massachusetts’ recent TOD law, passed with bipartisan support, requires communities with transit stations to create their own multifamily zoning districts.