Queens senators fought to remove controversial housing proposal from state budget

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Members of the Senate Queens Delegation were successful in playing a pivotal role in removing Gov. Kathy Hochul’s controversial statewide Housing Compact from the final state budget that would have had a significantly negative impact on the Queens community.

In January, Hochul introduced the housing proposal that would have made sweeping changes to allow accessory dwelling units (ADUs). An ADU is an additional unit, whether in a basement, attic or backyard, built by a homeowner. The proposal would have allowed homeowners to build these units while ignoring current local zoning laws. 

Hochul’s proposal would also mandate local governments to have developers construct new residential buildings, regardless of zoning, within one-third of a mile of a subway or LIRR station. Hochul said the Housing Compact would spur the changes needed to create “more housing, meet rising demand,” and make the state a more “equitable, stable and affordable place to live.”

However, Senators Toby Ann Stavisky, John Liu, Leroy Comrie, and Joseph Addabbo Jr. heard great concern from constituents who believe local zoning, land use and other related matters are issues for the City Council and the mayor’s office, not the state. 

Working with their colleagues, the senators were able to make sure these proposals did not make it into the final budget. 

“We need to allow local governments to use their regional expertise to tackle affordable housing shortages,” Stavisky said. “For instance, in my district, The Douglaston Civic Association is campaigning to have the abandoned former Pride of Judea Community Services building on Northern Boulevard retrofitted into affordable housing units. We need to enable and incentivize our local officials and community boards to move forward with projects like this that are unique to their neighborhoods and circumstances.” 

In February, community members and leaders from across Long Island, New York City and Westchester gathered at the Douglaston Club to express their opposition to the Housing Compact initiative. A change.org petition was also created to try and rally the community in opposition of the proposal. 

At the meeting, Queens Civic Congress President Warren Schreiber said that moving people into basement apartments or accessory dwelling units rather than creating more affordable housing units would create substandard and dangerous residences for some of the most vulnerable people. 

According to Stavisky, basement apartments can be dangerous if not locally and appropriately zoned in flood prone areas. 

“I witnessed this first hand in the deadly aftermath of Hurricane Ida. New York City already has regulations on basement apartments and we need to make sure the Department of Buildings is using all of its resources to enforce the current regulations,” Stavisky said. 

Lui noted that there can be “no one-size-fits-all” approach to housing in New York. 

“Each community has its own carefully crafted zoning laws that take into consideration the unique characteristics of that neighborhood, often on a block-by-block basis,” Liu said.  “Unfortunately, the Housing Compact attempted to override local zoning and community planning without ever even trying to propose an incentive. I’m proud that Queens legislators, along with our civic and community leaders, were wholly united and unrelenting in opposition against this attempt to paint our communities with such a broad brush.” 

Addabbo said it was important to take into account the worries and concerns of his constituents when it came to the sweeping changes. 

“New York City, and each of its communities, has very unique conditions compared to other parts of the state, so it wouldn’t be fair to enact the same rules for all localities across the board,” Addabbo said. “However, it is imperative that we address the need for affordable housing — which includes credible assistance for tenants and landlords — and I am optimistic that the legislature can come to an agreement before the end of session in June.”  

While he is encouraged that the Housing Compact was removed from the budget process, Comrie said they must challenge neighborhoods around the state to thoughtfully consider solutions to the housing crisis moving forward. 

“With more time to deliberate, we can have a thorough, balanced and well nuanced approach and come up with a better plan. I encourage local community advocates who successfully rallied alongside us to remain engaged as part of a working group to coalesce around housing solutions that make sense for our neighborhoods,” Comrie said.