Debate stunner: Hochul, Zeldin support idea of more housing

Candidates avoid real estate controversies; governor backs office-to-resi conversions

From left: Lee Zeldin and Kathy Hochul
From left: Lee Zeldin and Kathy Hochul (Getty)

Housing made a brief appearance at the only gubernatorial debate ahead of the Nov. 8 election. It was not a particularly insightful few minutes.

When asked about affordable housing, Rep. Lee Zeldin, the Republican nominee, acknowledged that the state needs more, but said investors are building in other states.

“They are sending their money elsewhere,” he said, lamenting that red tape and litigation slow development in New York.

The Suffolk County Republican did not propose any specific plans to increase housing, though he mentioned ramping up first-time homebuyer credits.

Gov. Kathy Hochul touted her administration’s $25 billion housing plan, which she projects will create or preserve 100,000 homes over five years. The Democrat from Buffalo also cited her administration’s emergency rental assistance program, though landlords have complained that tenants game the system to avoid eviction and paying rent.

“We have to continue helping those who were subjected to having a loss of income during the pandemic. They couldn’t make rent payments. Landlords were hurt, they were hurt,” Hochul said. “I’m the one who opened up billions of dollars my first week on the job to make sure we could help them be stabilized.” The fund was later exhausted, but its tenant protections continued.

The governor said zoning changes can do a lot to encourage housing construction, and mentioned transit-oriented development and plans to enable conversions of office space to residential in New York City.

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The Adams administration is expected to recommend ways to make conversions easier, which would likely require changes on both the city and state level. State funding approved in the past two years for conversions has not led to any such projects.

Early this year Hochul pitched allowing homeowners to add accessory dwelling units, but dropped the plan amid opposition. Zeldin framed the measure as an end to single-family homes.

Hochul is expected to revise the proposal next year without a mandate for localities, according to a Long Island legislator who has discussed it with her.

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Tuesday’s debate focused on crime and the economy, issues that are top of mind for many real estate professionals. Other major issues for the industry, such as good cause eviction, the rent stabilization law and the demise of 421a, were not mentioned in the hour-long debate.

When asked about the state’s process for awarding three new casino licenses, Zeldin emphasized the importance of “local control” and not said gambling venues “should not be jammed into areas that do not want it.”

Hochul agreed, noting that there is a siting process in place, but said it should not be held up. SL Green Realty and the Related Companies are vying for licenses to build casinos in Times Square and Hudson Yards, respectively.

Both candidates have received donations from the real estate, with Hochul pulling in cash from some of the biggest names in the industry. Real estate-funded political action committees, however, have run ads for Zeldin. Hochul recently said she is being outspent on television.