In her State of the State speech this week, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul outlined plans for creating more affordable housing. Focusing on downstate regions and Long Island, the proposals would have a goal of creating hundreds of thousands of new housing units. Development restrictions put in place by local governments — “the most restrictive in the nation” — were the reason for the shortage, she said. There was a clear warning to her message: A locality that did not meet a state-imposed target could have its approvals processes bypassed, allowing for more and bigger buildings.
The governor’s potential upending of town and village zoning could lead to rapid urbanization in some places, reason enough for elected officials here on the East End to find new ways to incentivize affordable housing construction by private investors. Up to now, most units have been created by the towns. Various steps taken in East Hampton Town, such as for owner-occupied cottages on existing house lots, have not produced much. A new half-percent real estate sales tax that went into effect at the beginning of the year will certainly raise money for new public undertakings, but nowhere near enough to meet the need.
Ms. Hochul’s bludgeon of a state takeover should give local officials motivation to look at the other half of the housing equation: demand. Town and village leaders still have failed to address the obvious connection between the rate of development and population. Each new and bigger house that is built adds to the overall need for service workers. And, as existing business grows, so too does the labor force. It is irresponsible that officials in our region have not confronted the fact that more jobs only add to the pressure for more housing, and with that, more traffic, air pollution, and need for services, which in turn, will drive up property taxes.
Current land-use regulations may leave localities open to developers’ taking advantage, which would be compounded by new state overrides. In Sag Harbor, for example, a group of investors hopes to build a new, 34,000-square-foot shopping center with as many as 79 affordable apartments on its upper floors — a densely urban structure on a flood-prone site. Officials there might find themselves unable to steer a project of that size if the governor’s ideas come to pass. This is a good reason for the East End towns and villages to increase their efforts to allow for affordable housing within density standards appropriate to the limited natural resources, infrastructure, and land area. Governor Hochul’s meaning is clear: Do more yourself or the state will do it for you — and you might not want to live with the results.