Housing Costs
Credit: Pat Bagley, The Salt Lake Tribune, UT / CTNewsJunkie via Cagle Cartoons / ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Jonathan L. Wharton

Over the past year, proposals to change the way the state’s housing policies are implemented have been the focus of a lot of public and legislative scrutiny. That’s because the pandemic, and the resulting inflationary spike, have caused housing prices to skyrocket while residential housing development slowed to a crawl. This has been the case in both New York and Connecticut.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has been pressing the Empire State’s legislature as well as her county and local governments to add 800,000 housing units in the next decade. Interestingly, she has been rather forceful on the topic with members of the news media and public about her proposals, unlike the approach taken by Gov. Ned Lamont, according to some political watchers.

Prior to the pandemic and inflation crises, housing costs and inventory were already problematic. New Yorkers barely follow the typical federal guideline of spending a third of one’s salary on rent or mortgage expenses. New Yorkers are often spending 40% of their salaries on housing, especially with average rent surpassing $4,000 a month. Although the New York City Housing Authority owns a number of rental units and the city enforces rent controls, housing inventory is still too limited.

In New York’s suburbs, housing expenses are also high and the shortage of available inventory is equally concerning. With a competitive market, potential renters and homeowners are particularly interested in Westchester County and Long Island. But in the last decade, those counties have granted fewer construction permits for housing units per person compared to other metropolitan areas in the US.

Similar to some of Connecticut’s transit-oriented development and affordable-housing proposals, Hochul wants to incentivize more housing development near commuter train stations. Under her language, New York would also require communities to have at least 50 homes per acre – which essentially means apartment buildings – within a half-mile of several Long Island Railroad and Metro-North stations. Hochul’s second plan would further demand that New York City and its suburbs increase the housing supply by 3% every 3 years.

New York state lawmakers are also suggesting proposals under which the state would not have any authority to enforce housing targets. Instead, there would be $500 million set aside for incentives for housing development, similar to recent Connecticut proposals.

But there’s been some resistance to Hochul’s housing proposals, especially in suburban New York towns. Such a large share of Long Islanders turned out to support the governor’s opponent, Republican Lee Zeldin, that last year’s election was a narrower victory for her than expected. In Westchester, over two dozen mayors and town supervisors penned a letter against Hochul’s plan.

So it’s no surprise then that The New York Times recently offered, “Ms. Hochul’s plan has touched a political third rail and drawn the anger of Republicans and some Democrats, as negotiations over the state budget come to a head this week in Albany.” 

In other words, Hochul’s plans have created a political rift even within her Democratic Party. A number of suburban legislators have spoken openly against her proposals. Well-heeled Scarsdale lawmakers and residents have grown concerned with new development and state requirements. While larger Westchester municipalities, like New Rochelle and Yonkers, have been growing and seeking economic development incentives. 

The Democratic Party infighting, and the conflict between larger and smaller municipalities, should seem familiar to Nutmeggers, especially in Fairfield County. Much of the resistance to recent housing proposals by our lawmakers and the governor was sparked by NIMBY-ism (Not in My Backyard) concerns from constituents. Connecticut’s standard of local control of economic development remains a critical sticking point.

But Lamont cannot afford to overplay his hand in the housing debate, even as a Democrat, because he is a former selectman from Greenwich. So, we shouldn’t expect him to weigh in too much on housing policies while our General Assembly remains indecisive on the proposals that could affect many suburban communities. That said, Connecticut residents should pay attention to what happens in Albany because New York’s outcomes could influence Connecticut’s economic development future.

Jonathan L. Wharton, Ph.D., is an associate professor of political science and urban affairs at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven.

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