The governor delivered a blow to New York housing advocates Thursday when she sidelined a proposal to legalize accessory dwelling units, sometimes referred to as granny flats.
Gov. Kathy Hochul removed language from her executive budget that would have required localities to permit the construction of such units on lots zoned for single-family housing. But she kept provisions that would pave the way for New York City to legalize basement apartments and other types of accessory units.
The jettisoned proposal likely means her administration will have to hash out an option that is more palatable to suburban lawmakers — and one that would almost certainly result in less new housing.
In a statement explaining her decision, the governor cited her time in local government — she was once Erie County Clerk — and her belief in the “importance of consensus-building and listening to communities and my fellow policymakers.”
“I have heard real concerns about the proposed approach on accessory dwelling units and transit-oriented development,” she said, “and I understand that my colleagues in the state Senate believe a different set of tools is needed, even if they agree with the goal of supporting the growth of this kind of housing.”
Long Island lawmakers had pushed back on the proposal, saying it usurped local control over zoning and ended single-family housing, even though it neither barred such housing nor mandated the construction of ADUs.
It also became a political football. Hochul’s challengers in the gubernatorial race, including Democrat Rep. Thomas Suozzi, Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin and Republican Rob Astorino, all sounded off against the idea. Astorino, the former county executive in Westchester, even claimed it would “abolish suburbs.”
More crucially, the governor appeared to lack broad support of the measure in Albany. This week Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told WNYC that the issue was an “evolving conversation” among lawmakers, although she committed to finding a “suitable path that accommodates the need along with respecting the communities that are going to be involved.”
Meanwhile, Hochul’s proposal created strange bedfellows: Landlord and tenant advocacy organizations rallied this week in support of it.
Landlords are less likely to back a similar bill proposed by Sen. Pete Harckham and Assembly member Harvey Epstein. It also mandates that localities lift regulatory barriers to ADUs but subjects the dwellings to good cause eviction, which landlords consider rent control.
An amended version of their measure omitted explicit mentions of good cause, but still would prevent landlords from increasing annual rents on such units by 3 percent or 1.5 times than the regional inflation rate, whichever is higher. That is the most controversial aspect of a broader good cause eviction bill championed by Sen. Julia Salazar.
Epstein told The Real Deal that he is open to changing this language. He said he was disappointed but not surprised that the governor decided to revoke her proposal, given the pressure she is facing from other lawmakers. He noted that his bill and the governor’s, like other state measures, allow localities to customize their ADU policies.
“We’re not telling localities how to do it,” he said. “We’re telling them they have to do it.”
Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, one of the landlord groups supporting the governor’s measure, said the good cause eviction provision in the other bill would disincentivize landlords from participating in a program aimed at creating affordable housing.
He added that did not expect Hochul to withdraw her proposal so early in the budget negotiations.
“Usually, we would expect a governor to keep as many of her wants into the negotiations as long as possible,” he said. “It was a little surprising and disappointing that it dropped off at this point.” The budget is supposed to be enacted by April 1.
The governor’s proposal preserved language that would let New York City pass legislation to legalize existing ADUs, potentially allowing tens of thousands of basement apartments to be brought up to code. Previous efforts by the city to do so have stalled.