Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Affordable Housing Bill To Get Legislature's Nod

. . .And A Wink

There is no denying that the affordable housing crisis in New York, and most particularly, on Long Island, is just that -- a crisis.

For years, proponents of affordable housing legislation -- requiring, among other things, that developers set aside a defined percentage of all units built for moderate income households -- have seen measure upon measure languish up in Albany, much to the dismay of those who cannot afford homes of their own, as well as the exasperation of existing homeowners, who must, invariably, bear the burden (and we mean, "tax burden") of illegal accessory apartments, the outgrowth of the dearth in affordable housing.

Now, the NYS Legislature stands ready, at long last, to pass what has been designated as an affordable housing bill -- a bill that, in reality, looks more like Swiss cheese than the cheese wheel needed to set in motion much-needed housing relief.

That the proposed measure may be too little, too late is an apparent overstatement, the emphasis on the "too little," New Yorkers having become well accustomed to "too late."

A developer building in, say, Great Neck or Manhasset, could, under the pending legislation, build luxury houses in those wealthy communities, while sealing a deal to set aside 10% of the units built as "affordable," not in Great Neck or Manhasset, mind you, but rather, in poorer communities, such as Hempstead or Roosevelt.

And while the legislation would create an additional housing stock -- somewhere, but not necessarily here -- of, perhaps, 200 homes per year (we're being generous), other measures floated (including a more comprehensive plan favored by Suffolk County Exec Steve Levy) would likely create thousands of new units, easing the crunch on both the overtaxed homeowner and the would-be homeowner.

We applaud State Senator Dean G. Skelos for sponsoring the present legislation (as well as the more compelling Levy bill), and for garnering the votes necessary to pass the measure through the GOP-controlled State Senate.

Its a weak bill, to be sure, but it is a start.

It remains for the Legislature, however, if not in this session (and it won't be), then, certainly, in the next, to pick up where this year's affordable housing bill leaves off.

The affordable housing crisis calls for relief beyond the quick, symbolic fix.

Hopefully, as Senator Carl Marcellino told Newsday, "We're going to get one (affordable housing bill) passed and we're going to move the process forward."

Here's to moving faster toward affordable housing in New York.
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From Newsday:

State set to pass LI affordable housing bill

After several years of stalled efforts, the state Legislature is poised to pass a bill that would require 10 percent of Long Island housing developments to be affordable.

The inclusionary zoning measure, which could pass as soon as next week, is sponsored by state Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), and has bipartisan support.

The Long Island Association, Long Island's leading business group, has long championed this bill and says its passage is a political breakthrough for the region. But some housing advocates are not so sure. In a bid to get Nassau village officials to drop their longtime opposition, they contend, sponsors have so watered down the measure that its value is mainly symbolic.

The bill, which gives builders a density bonus for affordable units, now allows those units to be built on a different site owned by the builder in the same municipality, or pay a fee that will be used to build affordable housing in another municipality by mutual agreement. Or the money can go to the Long Island Housing Partnership for housing and down payment assistance.

"This has to happen before any other progress is made on workforce housing on Long Island," said Matthew Crosson, president of the Long Island Association. "You have in place a bipartisan consensus that this problem is real, and it needs to be solved urgently."

But the new language has dismayed many in the large coalition that had backed the bill.

"The concern is that this will perpetuate patterns of racial and class housing segregation," said Richard Koubek, Catholic Charities coordinator for the Mobilized Interfaith Coalition Against Hunger campaign. "Wealthier villages ... could get around the law by negotiating a deal with less wealthy villages to literally sell off their housing obligation. ... There are quite a few loopholes."

So while not opposing this bill, Koubek and other advocates are now working to pass one backed by Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy and his chief deputy, former housing advocate James Morgo. That measure, covering seven downstate counties, would spell out how many homes should be built in each community, and offer incentives to governments that build them.

"The inclusionary bill is a good symbolic message, but would ultimately only get you about 100 to 200 units a year being built," said Levy, who nevertheless believes it should pass. "The downstate bill could lead to thousands and thousands." Already, he said, several Long Island municipalities have passed inclusionary zoning laws tougher than this bill.

But while Skelos also has sponsored Levy's favored bill, lawmakers say it is nowhere near passing, because it is new, complex and would require some $87 million in support.

"Compromises have to be made," insists Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset), a co-sponsor of the inclusionary bill. "We're going to get one passed and we're going to move the process forward."

The debate has strained relations between Morgo, who was critical of the inclusionary bill but thought both could pass, and Crosson, who had lobbied to stop the filing of the downstate bill at all.

In letters, phone calls and heated exchanges at meetings, Crosson argued the downstate bill would "derail" five years of work. He wrote to the Regional Plan Association demanding it "immediately cease" its work on the bill. In February, Crosson wrote to LIA directors saying Morgo was behind efforts to "undermine" and "misrepresent" the inclusionary bill.

This month, Crosson dismissed the frictions, saying his fears have not been borne out. "That's past, and we're moving forward," Crosson said.

But the LIA still does not endorse the bill Levy and Morgo drafted together with the other suburban counties. "I think the bill is complicated and difficult for people to understand, and needs to be simplified," Crosson said.

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.

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