The Many Lies of the Housing Crisis Alarmists
Under the rallying cry of a housing crisis in the New York metropolitan area, politicians have begun a double-barreled assault against affluent suburban communities and the owners of multi-family residential properties. Their ideologically driven plans are based on false premises and designed to grant developers free rein over local zoning and state environmental laws. Proposed legislation in New York and Connecticut has ignited a battle between the liberal suburban enclaves and the radical Democrats in New York City and Hartford that could awaken the suburbanites to the malevolent nature of radical progressivism.
In January, New York governor Kathy Hochul unleashed her New York Housing Compact for 800,000 new units over ten years. Hochul Housing would mandate that each municipality served by the Metro North transit system increase its housing stock by 3% every three years or face punitive measures, including state pre-emption of local land use decision-making. In addition, she proposed Transit Oriented Development (TOD) zones within a half-mile radius of every train station. Municipalities closest to New York City would have to meet or exceed a density of 50 units per acre.
Hochul Housing is the second attempt in two years to force a heavy-handed, state-controlled approach on municipalities to increase housing stock, without any consideration of widely varying land use issues and in violation of the state's constitutional protection of local home rule on zoning. A year ago, her efforts were successfully opposed by suburban mayors, state legislators, and residents. Sharper and more public bipartisan opposition has reappeared ahead of the April 1 budget deadline.
In neighboring Connecticut, advocacy group DesegregateCT is making its third attempt to pass the "Work Live Ride Act," which would mandate high-density housing around Metro North train stations. Greenwich, the first town in Connecticut on Metro North, would be required to have a density of 30 homes per acre. No coincidence that DesegregateCT is an affiliate of the powerful Regional Planning Association (RPA), a New York City–based not-for-profit whose donor list includes some of the nation's and region's largest real estate developers.
These efforts are based on the premise that there is a housing crisis created by restrictive suburban zoning laws. This is risible, given regional population and construction trends. Between July 1, 2020 and July 1, 2022, New York had a net migration loss of 651,742 individuals, or 3.24% of the population. Connecticut's population is flat, and New Jersey's annual loss is about 1%.
At a rate of negative net migration of 300,000 people a year, in ten years, New York will have 3 million fewer people, obviating Hochul Housing's claim for an urgent need of 800,000 new units.
As she pitches Hochul Housing across skeptical suburbs, Hochul claims that employers want to be in New York. In fact, employers are leaving New York. In a report issued in October 2022, New York State comptroller Tom DiNapoli shows that the city's share of all jobs in the financial services industry, a longtime mainstay of the region's tax revenue and employment, is at a 33-year low of 17.7%, compared with a 33% share two decades ago.
More companies plan to depart the Empire State. A recent survey of major employers by the Partnership of NYC found that 22% of financial services firms plan to reduce headcount in the city over the next five years. Overall, 13% of respondents plan to reduce their NYC workforces.
The proponents of TOD and eliminating local zoning control bewail the housing cost burden, which is about 50% in New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey. Yet Connecticut and New Jersey are not losing as many residents as New York, and the region's most popular outmigration destination, Florida, has a much higher housing cost burden, according to the Population Reference Bureau.
Another false premise by the housing crisis alarmists is that Big Government is needed to facilitate new construction. Multi-family housing construction is occurring all over metro New York, with multi-family units far exceeding single-family construction. In fact, construction of multi-family housing is at a 50-year high, according to the National Association of Realtors. New multifamily construction in the N.Y.-Newark–Jersey City region between January and July 2022 was 33,158 units, up 28%. White Plains mayor Thomas Roach claims that 7,000 new units are underway in Westchester.
In contrast, new single-family construction was only 8,672 units in metro New York during the same period, down 3%. In the Bridgeport-Stamford region, multi-family doubled to 747 units, while single family construction was 430 units, dropping 19%.
Another misconception of the housing alarmists is that this mandated new housing will be "affordable." The towns and cities that dot the routes of the Metro North lines in New York and Connecticut as well as those on New Jersey Transit are well developed, with little available land. Construction costs are expensive due to the high cost of the land, prevailing wages, and materials inflation. The condos going up in Greenwich and Bronxville start at about $1.5 million. The lowest rent for a new complex in Harrison is $2,851 for a 590-square-foot unit.
The vacancy rates in New York City reflect the demand for below-market-priced housing and active construction of market-rate units. According to the 2022 New York City Housing and Vacancy Study, vacancy rates for units renting for less than $1,500 per month was 1%, while vacancy rates for units renting for over $2,300 per month was 12.6%.
Hochul Housing and DesegregateCT density requirements would vastly overwhelm many towns, given numerous environmental and infrastructure issues, causing sewerage, traffic, and environmental problems. In Pelham, a hamlet of 2,500 households on Long Island Sound immediately north of the Bronx County line, Hochul Housing would require the addition of 5,000 units, tripling the size of the community. Likewise, Bronxville, a village of one square mile with 2,600 housing units, calculates that it would be required to add 10,000 new units.
As relates to commercial real estate, the paucity of low-priced rentals is the direct result of bad state and city policies. In New York and elsewhere, state and city guidelines prevent property owners from increasing rents to cover the costs of renovation when a tenant moves out. As a result, there are tens of thousands of vacant rent-stabilized apartments because property owners can't afford to upgrade them. Estimates range from 40,000 to over 80,000 units.
New York has strict rent control and stabilization laws that limit rent increases. There are 16,400 rent-controlled and about 1,048,860 rent-stabilized apartments. People who live in these units don't leave and pass them onto relatives.
The "Good Cause Eviction" law wending its way through the New York State Legislature would limit rent increases on market rate units to 3% or 1.5 times the Consumer Price Index. It would also prevent property owners from renewing leases for tenants who are current in rent, thus depriving property owners of control over decisions about their properties.
Suburban residents and property owners are fed up. Peter Baynes, executive director of the New York State Conference of Mayors, stated at a hearing in February: "A confrontational, top-down approach on something as fundamentally 'local' as land use will breed the resistance, confusion and litigation that will only inhibit rather than propel the necessary levels of growth in housing units in New York."
The residents of the suburbs and their elected officials are waking up to the fact that they are under attack by radical progressives from the urban centers of their states. Having destroyed civil society in Newark, New York City, and Hartford, these politicians are now pressing toxic interventions on the self-governing suburbs that function well on their own. Albany, Hartford, and Trenton legislators should be focusing on reducing crime, taxes, and regulation instead of turning the successful suburbs into urban hellholes.
Linda R. Killian is a founding member of Republican Women of Westchester and a retired financial executive, now researching and writing about policy issues.
Image: Kathy Hochul. Credit: Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York via Flickr, CC BY 2.0 (cropped).