HOUSING – THE OVERLOOKED INFRASTRUCTURE
The United States is experiencing a critical shortage of affordable housing opportunities. According to a recent publication of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) titled “The Doubled Trouble of the Housing Market,” we are experiencing the double whammy of record high home prices and record low inventory of available homes. According to the NAR, only nine (9%) percent of the homes for sale in the New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania metro area are affordable for families making $50,000 to $75,000.00. That figure only slightly increases to 29% for the Albany, Schnectady, Troy area. While no figures are available for Sullivan County, one must estimate that they fall somewhere within these parameters.
These facts are significant since the vast majority of jobs being created in our region are for tourism, hospitality, and warehousing where wages fall squarely in the $50,000 to $75,000.00 range.
We cannot expect to continue to attract these tax positive, job producing developments in our region if we do not have housing available for the people who will work there. Therefore, we must treat adequate housing opportunities as necessary infrastructure to support the economic health of our region. Providing housing opportunities near employment is a must. Environmentally and economically sensible growth reduces transportation costs for families, allows families to spend more time with each other, frees up time to participate in the community activities, as and importantly, ensures that our workforce spends money in our community.
For example, many patrons of tourist destinations within Sullivan County travel to that destination to enjoy that destination and then travel home. It is the staff at these facilities who, if they live in the community, will support local businesses and pay taxes in the community. It is now a commonly recognized fact that the construction of diverse and affordable housing opportunities prove a substantial economic benefit to a community.
Many states such as California, Massachusetts, Oregon and Connecticut have recognized this fact and are taking action to attempt to ensure that their local governments provide diverse housing opportunities.
Governor Hochul in her State of the State address discussed several laws and initiatives intended to address the impacts of exclusionary zoning and promote affordable housing within the State. These include:
(1) proposed legislation to require municipalities to legalize accessory dwelling units (ADUs);
(2) legislation to facilitate multi-family construction projects in areas served by rail;
(3) consideration of plans to ease restriction on conversion of vacant hotels, offices and retails to residential;
(4) provide additional funding and assistance to communities to draft local laws to promote those diverse housing opportunities;
(5) enhance funding and tax incentive programs to provide and preserve affordable housing.
In response to bipartisan opposition, Governor Hochul has tabled the first three initiatives. However, New York municipalities do not need to wait for the State to take action. Any local municipality, today, can adopt a law allowing accessory dwelling units. In rural areas where it is tough to provide central water or sewer infrastructure, duplexes or triplexes can be permitted with well and septic systems. Our cities, villages and towns can work together to provide sewer and water infrastructure in areas that can support multi-family and small lot single family homes near new commercial or industrial development. The bottom line is that we have the tools to improve our housing stock to provide diverse and affordable opportunities so long as we have the will to do so.
This is not intended to be legal advice. You should contact an attorney for questions regarding your specific situation.
John C. Cappello is a partner practicing Land Use/Environmental and Municipal Law.
He can be reached by phone at 845-764-9656 and by email.