Last-Minute New York Housing Deal Falls Apart in Legislative Session

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A last-minute deal to protect millions of New York renters while extending a lucrative tax break for developers fell apart in Albany on Thursday as the governor and legislators blamed each other for its collapse.

During the last week of the legislative session, Democratic lawmakers attempted to pass a collection of housing bills that would have provided a rental assistance subsidy for New Yorkers experiencing homelessness, prevent landlords from evicting tenants in most cases, and extend the deadline for unfinished multifamily projects to apply for an expired affordable housing tax break

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Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and state Senate President Andrea Stewart-Cousins announced at 5 p.m. on Thursday they had reached consensus on multiple housing proposals, including its most controversial component “good cause eviction,” but Gov. Kathy Hochul would not join them.

“Unfortunately, it was clear that we could not come to an agreement with the governor on this plan,” Heastie and Stewart-Cousins said in a joint statement. “All three chambers must immediately redouble our efforts, and come up with a plan that the governor will sign into law.”

But the governor’s office strongly disputed those remarks and claimed the legislature never bothered to pass any housing legislation in the first place.

“Unlike the more than 500 bills the legislature has passed since January, no housing package was ever even introduced, let alone passed, for the governor’s review,” Hochul spokeswoman Julie Wood said in a statement. “Absolutely nothing stood in the legislature’s way.”

Housing advocates largely sided with the governor over who was responsible for the breakdown as the final hours of the legislative session waned.

“The state legislature has let New Yorkers down. Not prioritizing a housing package that was solely rooted in drastically increasing the dwindling rental stock was a complete failure,” John Sanchez, executive director of the 5 Borough Housing Movement, a coalition of business, civic and religious groups, said in a statement. “Black and brown New Yorkers are leaving in droves because it’s become harder and harder for them to live here.”

Developers were exasperated that legislators could not sign off on any measures to spur the construction of new homes as housing in New York becomes increasingly unaffordable.

“There is widespread agreement that the city’s housing supply crisis continues to worsen,” James Whelan, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, said. “The construction of rental housing in the city continues to plummet, and New Yorkers desperately in need of new rental housing experience escalating rents, increased homelessness, and a continued deterioration of the city’s rental housing stock.”

The year began with a promise from the governor to tackle the state’s housing crisis.

In her annual budget address, Hochul proposed building 800,000 new units of housing across New York state over the next decade by incentivizing developers, mandating new construction in suburban communities, converting vacant office space, and allowing taller, denser residential complexes in city neighborhoods.

But lawmakers pushed back against attempts to override local zoning codes and could not agree on the parameters of a new affordable housing tax rebate after allowing an earlier incentive, 421a, to expire in June 2022. A measure to raise the floor area ratio cap couldn’t gain traction in the Assembly, either. Hochul finally dropped her housing package from the state budget, which passed a month late. 

After the budget passed, state lawmakers attempted to revive several housing measures while also adding a bevy of bills that extended protections to tenants that capped rent increases and made evictions more difficult. 

But the proposals did not include Hochul’s plans to generate new housing or require municipalities to boost the state’s housing supply.

On Friday, lawmakers began voting on bills that would automatically seal some criminal records, expand the criteria for filing a wrongful death lawsuit, and create a commission for studying how to pay reparations for slavery. The legislature broke for the weekend but will likely return in a few weeks to pass a handful of their priorities.

Daniel Altschuler, co-executive director of Make the Road Action, which organizes immigrants, believes state lawmakers ultimately misplayed their hand. 

“Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Carl Heastie can and should pass a deal including good cause in their chambers and force her hand,” he tweeted. “Hochul would have a hard time vetoing a housing package after calling for it all year.”