‘An Existential Threat to Our Communities’ Urban Planner Lays Out Hochul’s Housing Plan
By Katie McFadden
“This is an existential threat to our communities,” urban planning expert Paul Graziano, who specializes in zoning, said at Tuesday’s Belle Harbor Property Owners Association (BHPOA) meeting. The threat he is referring to is Governor Kathy Hochul’s “Housing Compact” plan “to build more housing and make New York more affordable for all.” It is a plan that Hochul has slipped into the fiscal year 2024 state budget, that is currently being negotiated on through March 31. And according to Graziano, if it passes, it could be the end of single-family home neighborhoods like Rockaway.
According to the NY.gov website, the New York Housing Compact is a “multifaceted approach to address New York’s historic housing shortage and build 800,000 new homes over the next decade. The New York Housing Compact will encourage growth by removing barriers to housing production, incentivizing new construction, and setting local housing targets across every New York community.” While aspects of it may sound good on paper, Graziano warned that it would fundamentally change the few neighborhoods in New York City that have single family homes, with only 15% of the city being zoned for single family homes as is.
Graziano recapped some events that led up to this proposal, such as a similar city proposal made in 2020 by former City Council speaker Corey Johnson. When that plan was in discussions, Graziano appeared before Community Board 14 and other community boards and civic associations across NYC to warn about that “Planning Together” housing plan. “As a planner, when I hear stuff like this, I get suspicious. Whenever something is touchy feely and about working together, it sounds great, but lollipops and puppy dogs don’t work in real estate,” Graziano said. The plan, which would essentially eliminate the current Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process and create cycles of development, received heavy pushback and during the February 2021 Zoom hearing on the matter, Graziano said Johnson got defensive and removed himself from the meeting before the public could comment. “It died right there,” Graziano said.
But then, a similar plan arose in the state when Kathy Hochul first became governor after Andrew Cuomo resigned in 2021. “In her first State of the State in January 2022, Hochul said these words—’we’re going to fix outdated land use laws that are holding back housing supply.’ She wanted to eliminate single family zoning across the entire state of NY,” Graziano said. He explained Home Rule, in which NY state guarantees that localities like city councils and mayors have equal status to the government of the state so the state cannot trample the rights of localities and how Hochul wanted to eliminate this. “Her plan was that every single-family zone would allow accessory dwelling units on every property across NY, so basements, attics, converted garages, new houses behind houses, etc. This is a nationwide push by big real estate interests,” he said. “Number two was amnesty for all illegal conversions in NYC. It is the scourge of many of our communities and the last decade, the mayors have turned a blind eye, which is why people die and the people doing this are not paying property taxes properly. Blanket amnesty punishes the people doing this properly. The third is transit oriented development, so areas within a half a mile radius of train stations, and last year, that was all Metro North and LIRR stations outside of the city, would have to upzone,” Graziano said. He went on to form a coalition of communities that this would impact, which was boisterous in their protest. “We got this killed in one month because the governor was running for election. She had dumped this in the budget because it’s harder to separate it out. It’s an omnibus budget bill and if you do that, people aren’t going to vote against the budget because it has education, safety, sewers, etc. This is just one little piece and she pulled out 90% in the 30-day amendment period but left the amnesty for illegal conversions and we had to remove that on the last day of budget negotiations with people in the state legislature from Queens forcing her to take it out,” he said.
But with Hochul winning the election, she brought back her housing plan in her 2023 State of the State and this time, Graziano said it’s even worse. “The first thing she said after the election was housing and bail reform are gonna be the two main focuses and in January of this year, she announced housing and if anything, this proposal is worse than what she did last year,” he said. According to Graziano, the newest proposal, again dumped into the budget calls for all communities in NY state to have a mandatory housing target. “If these targets are not met, local zoning will be removed, Home Rule will be taken away and the state will create a board that will decide where multifamily apartment buildings can go whenever a developer comes to. It also removes all height restriction across New York. There will also be blanket amnesty for illegal conversions. If you build an ADU, you’ll get a property tax exemption,” he said. “But the big one was that transit-oriented development, not only around train stations in suburbs, but all MTA stations, including city stations like on Beach 116th, to a tune of a minimum of 50 units per acre. You’re currently in an R2 zone which maxes out at 10 to 11 units per acre. This would be a 500% increase minimum of the benchmark of zoning. I started looking at results of this and they’re terrifying. In Douglaston and Little Neck, there are 3,000 units of housing within a half mile radius. The minimum number of additional units would be 18,000. In St. Albans, Laurelton and Rosedale, it was a 500% increase of 4,000 to 20,000. Glen Cove and Locust Valley, the minimum would be 32,0000. We describe this as an extinction event. This is an existential threat to our communities.”
Despite the dire warning about this proposal, Graziano said there is some good news. “Many Democrats and all Republicans in the state legislature are opposed to this and when the super majorities tried to negotiate with the Governor over this, she told them to leave the room and the next day, both the Assembly and Senate put out house bills that stripped almost all of this Housing Compact from it. “Oh, and when the governor did this plan, she said for those who are concerned about infrastructure, I’m putting money in the bill for $250 million. The budget is $227 billion. That’s not even a drop in the bucket” Graziano said, mentioning one of the “perks” of the Housing Compact. At the end of the day, the Assembly and Senate put $500M for incentives for municipalities to tap into if they want to build housing, so if communities don’t want it, they don’t have to take the money. I’m pleased they did this. However, the budget is not over,” he said.
Graziano mentioned a recent mass advertising and mailer movement, asking folks to support this budget. “This is by the American Opportunity. It’s a Super PAC out of DC, and we figured out its run by the Democratic Governors Association but that’s not really who funded this. It was someone who helped us get our communities protected in the past—Michael Bloomberg. It’s very disturbing. When he was in office, he worked with us. Why is he now giving $5 million to destroy our communities?” Graziano said.
“If any of this passes, we’re done. Hochul must stop this. Contact your state officials. Let them know how you feel about this,” he said, mentioning that most local state officials are against this, but Senator James Sanders has not taken a position on this yet. “The only way to stop this is if we’re all united. This is an assault on the most basic thing we have, which is our homes. We cannot be partisan with this.”
BHPOA President Paul King provided informational flyers on facts of the plan from the NY Housing Community for people to look over and form their own opinions on this plan.
“One of the things people are saying is I’m obsessing over the transit-oriented density and going up to 50 units, but this plan only calls for 3% over three years,” King said. To which Graziano quipped, “that’s 10% every decade. Let’s look at NYC. Four million units. Ten percent is 400,000 units in ten years, or 120,000 in three, and if we don’t do it, the state will take over our local control. This 3% number sounds easy, but that’s 120,000 units. It will never be done. It’s designed to fail, so the state can take over our rights and that’s the disturbing part of this,” he said, adding that the state isn’t giving anyone credit for recent housing that was built in the last few years.
A member of the audience said, “so any person who gets married and has a dream of buying a home, that’s over?” Graziano replied, “Absolutely.” He also added that this fight, even if won against the state, won’t stop with the state. “If we win this, we will have to deal with this from our mayor and a number of our council members. This is an agenda, if it passes, your only option is to move out of the state. I’ve been doing this for 30 years professionally, and I’ve never seen anything like this, and for it to come back two years in a row? In my opinion, Hochul is not someone who understands politics and shouldn’t be in office,” Graziano, who is running for city council as a democrat in District 19, said.
The state budget is up for negotiations until March 31. Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 718-945-9550. Senator James Sanders can be reached email@example.com or 718-327-7017. Governor Kathy Hochul can be reached at 518-474-8390.
For more information on Hochul’s plan, see: www.governor.ny.gov/programs/new-york-housing-compact