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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Governor Hochul Delivers Remarks at New York Housing Conference Annual Awards Program

Governor Kathy Hochul delivers keynote address at New York Housing Conference Annual Awards. (Darren McGee/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul)

Governor Hochul: "We have to face some hard facts, my friends. We are in the midst of a housing crisis that has been decades in the making the lack of affordable housing or housing overall in our state goes against the very concept of what fairness is."

"I will meet this with the fortitude and the zeal that's going to be required because we've never had a statewide strategy on housing before. But under my administration, that will change in January. We will act boldly."

"I will not be deterred in our quest because every community, every small town, every local zoning board, every planning board, every community has a role to play, and they must It won't be easy. We're New Yorkers. We don't back down. We're tough. We dream big, and we do big. And we, ultimately, do what's right."

Governor Hochul delivered remarks on Thursday December 1, at the New York Housing Conference Annual Awards Program, where she discussed New York State's housing crisis and shared her plans to outline bold solutions in her upcoming State of the State address.

A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks are available below:

Good afternoon, everyone. Rachel, you can tell Rory, my favorite color is black. I'm a mom. Moms have to stick together, okay? So, I am delighted to be here. I couldn't wait to accept the invitation to be in this room and to have a chance to, first of all, recognize the people that I rely on. The individuals who are doing extraordinary work, and the leading scorer on my World Cup in the housing space is Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas. I want to give her a round of applause. She leads a dynamic team of really committed public servants and I'll put them up against any state in the world. I say not just the country, the world. I put my team up because they are the smartest, the brightest. I also just want to thank my policy team, who I'll acknowledge in a couple of minutes, but great to be here. Thank you, Rachel.

And Marc Jahr, those were beautiful remarks to talk about your lifelong journey. We all started out not knowing much about anything, and all of it is because of the influences of a lot of great people that call New York home. I think we're all the better for it. And we're certainly better for having your dedication to this space.

And to all the honorees and people here today, a couple of elected leaders, at least I see Senator Brian Kavanagh, who's the Housing Chair. I want to thank him for his leadership and pushing us to always do what's right. I don't know if Steve Cymbrowitz is here. Can't see if Steve is here. Steve? Okay. Steve, thank you for your extraordinary work in the housing space as well. 22 years working in the assembly, a tireless advocate to improve housing, and we're grateful and we worked together to protect the NYCHA residents and many other areas. And we are all together and we signed the - Rachel was there too - we signed the NYCHA Trust, an opportunity to unlock critical investments for the residents who deserve so much more. So, thank you for the legacy you're leaving as well, Steve.

So, it's great to be here with a room full of people that are so dedicated. For half a century, the New York Housing Conference has been at the forefront of solving some of our society's most intractable problems, and one of them is making sure that every single New Yorker has access to decent and affordable housing. I'm privileged to live in the home that FDR once occupied during the short two years he was governor before he became president. But it was also during the crash when he was actually the governor of the State of New York. And so, I'm seared in the knowledge that people before me have had to face extraordinary challenges.

And I know to him as well, making sure that people had a safe place and housing and jobs was a priority of his that he actually took to the nation, and when he served as our president. So, many of the brilliant ideas in this space have originated in our state, and that is part of our legacy. And it's also part of the fight that I've embraced for many years. You heard Rachel talk about a journey from town board. What did I do on town board? I did planning, I did zoning, the traffic safety, I made a lot of approval of our projects when people wanted to bring a group home into our community, which made all the sense in the world. I had to take the line of fire sitting up on that board. We let the public speak as long as they wanted, but the nimbies, the people didn't want that to happen. Or the countless times we had to undertake rezonings to make sure that we expanded our housing stock. And there's always, always, always opposition. But that steeled me toward the knowledge, the important role of local government as well.

So, it's also my administration's fight as well, as we're going to make sure that we have a vision for the State of New York. We thank the people who are acknowledging that it's World AIDS Day, but I want to make sure that New York continues to be a place people want to come, have a job, a place to be safe, and have a job, build a future. It's not just aspirational, it's what we've really been doing since day one. And in my first State of the State back in January, it was my first chance to tell New Yorkers really what I believe. And I do believe, yes, it is AIDS Day and we're supportive of the efforts to protect people who are afflicted with AIDS. And so, I'm happy to have our supporters here as well. They follow me everywhere. My fan club continues to grow. But no, and I'm an activist, so I admire people who put their time into causes they believe so profoundly. And so certainly the individuals who joined us today.

But I mentioned my first State of the State last January was the first chance to really tell New Yorkers what I believe. And I wasn't known too many New Yorkers, and I had a chance to just tell them how I could use the power of government to move New York State forward. And I put affordable housing at the front and center of my speech in my very first budget as well. And it was dramatic. It was dramatic. It included the largest investment in New York State history into preserving and creating over 100,000 affordable homes, $25 billion over five years. It was bold. I won't say that our Budget Director didn't fall off his chair when we said we want to put $25 billion, but we found a path. We found a way, and we realized the urgency. And that's how I approach all the problems we have here in New York State, with a sense of urgency that we have a finite amount of time to correct the wrongs of the past. And that's what I feel so passionate about.

So, over the past 16 months, our work has continued in earnest, you know, unlocking, as I mentioned, billions of dollars under the NYCHA Trust. I mean, these opportunities were sitting there and nobody was able to broaden the coalition and help people understand what this could actually do by using - harnessing that power that was there and saying that we have a new public housing preservation trust. We've also cut the red tape to accelerate hotel conversion to residential housing. You know, we need more takers, but this is another area where we can increase our housing stock, these conversions. We'll be talking more about that in the next few months. But also combating discriminatory housing practices across the state.

This is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it should be a non-phenomenon because we shouldn't be still having communities experience this. I'll never forget when I was growing up in Western New York, my parents in their twenties, literally in their early thirties, were activists, you know, Vietnam War and Civil Rights and poverty marches. That's where I grew up. And they also were part of a program called Housing Opportunities Made Equal. That started way back. They're one of the early founders in our area, and we invited people from communities of color to sit on our front porch in our little house and in an all-white neighborhood and say that we should be working harder in partnership. And my parents took an enormous amount of grief for that at the time for having the audacity to say that everybody should be treated equally and have access to affordable homes. So, that's the environment that I grew up in. I know how important it is. And so discriminatory housing practices still exist today, and we call them out and we do not just call out, we try hard to rectify them.

We also created an eviction prevention legal assistance program with $25 million. You know, a lot of times people just don't, can't afford a lawyer. If you're in that situation being evicted, how do you have money to pay for a lawyer? So, this helps low and moderate-income residents be able to avoid eviction. We also put $539 million on the table for the homeowner assistance fund to help our homeowners, and also $100 million out there in rent supplements. You know, especially as we're still reeling from the effects of the pandemic, last year we put together our budget. So, we put that out there for localities to distribute.

So, these are just a few ways in the, literally since less than a year ago, we had a chance to put forth the statement of our priorities, who we are as a state and the issues that we're willing to take on. And many of you are partners and allies in this work, and I want to thank all of you for the incredible work you did. And I love your theme - Making a Difference. It's so simple, but it's packed with a punch. There's real meaning behind the words "making a difference," because that's, to me, what you do, but it's also what public service is all about. In fact, I began last year's State of the State address by saying, "I'm not here to make history. I'm here to make a difference."

And what I meant was simple. It was very simple. I want all New Yorkers to have the same opportunities that I had growing up. And my family's story was not unique. It's basically the story of New Yorkers, for many. My grandparents left a place of great poverty in search of the American Dream. How common is that story? They had nothing. Just a dream. They came here, found a place called Buffalo, New York. Why? Because there were jobs. They didn't check the weather forecast before they got there. I digress, but we had 82 inches of snow up there. That's a couple of feet taller than I was. You should have seen me in the snowbanks. But you know, that's because Grandpa started as a migrant farmworker in the wheat field of South Dakota and they were domestic servants in Chicago. But finally, they heard about these great jobs making steel at the Bethlehem Steel Plant. And they, like others from around the world, settled in Buffalo to be able to make steel with their hands.

And how do you judge someone's success? It's not just the fact that he would go off every day with that tin lunch pail I'd see Grandma pack up with his food for the evening shift, the night shift. But it's also how you see what it does to a family, those jobs. You know, families grew eight kids in this one family, my father being the oldest, and then he could work at the steel plant and his brothers could work at the steel plant. And you could see the families growing up together, which is why I'm going to get to the place where we realize it's also part of a dream that we all share. And that means that your family can afford to live near you, where you grew up if you choose to. So, I grew up around my grandparents and learned their stories and their struggles, and my parents followed a similar path.

They started living in a trailer park. You know, you work in the steel plant, you go to the trailer park. I literally visited that trailer park two weeks ago to see how they were enduring the snow that was literally seven feet of snow on the roof of these manufactured homes that were probably 40, 50 years old. So, parents started there. My brother was born, but then they were able to go to a two-bedroom place where their daughter was born a year later, a little flat. You know, we look at it today, it's like, "Wow, that was poor." They didn't know they were poor. But finally, they could get a little Cape Cod house and then as we grew up and my dad changed jobs and dad got an education, which is what opened the door, I watched my parents' success unfold from the progression of homes they could afford. And it wasn't just the good jobs that made that access available, it was the fact that there were homes to move into, that there was plentiful housing.

So, I saw firsthand what housing stock, available housing, affordable housing for your means, can do for a family. But I've also seen what this can mean when you're blocked from achieving that dream with factors outside your control. I go back in time again - when the factories closed in my hometown, 1982 or three, 20,000 jobs were gone, nobody had the paychecks anymore, so they scattered. The most common phrase from my siblings and their friends and everybody who left, "last one out turned out the lights." That's just a generation ago. So, it robbed people of their paychecks and the ability to afford their homes. That's why people had to leave, and they went in search of jobs elsewhere.

Clearly, the situation today is nowhere near as dire as what I just described to you of what happened in Western New York but also happened in many parts of our state. But we have to accept the fact that we are once again staring down a crisis. And this new crisis could potentially block families from achieving their dreams or forcing them to go elsewhere to achieve them. And this time it's not for the lack of jobs. It's actually quite the opposite. The jobs are here, but the housing is not. And so once again, people are having to leave their local communities, their extended families. And this is personal to me - I just became a grandmother six months ago, and if you can't live near your grandchildren, if you want to, something's breaking down the social order, the fabric is breaking down, and in some cases, people can't afford to live in a community they grew up in and they're leaving altogether. That to me is a tragedy. That's a tragedy. So, people want to come here and take those great jobs that we're creating, but they're hitting a wall and not finding the house that they can afford. So, we have to ask ourselves in 2022, almost 2023, why is that? What happened? And how do we compare with surrounding states?

Well, we have to face some hard facts, my friends. We are in the midst of a housing crisis that has been decades in the making. And the decade before the pandemic, we created jobs at three times the rate of housing units, leaving us with 1.25 million jobs, but only 400,000 units of housing. See the disconnect. We now have the jobs, but where are you going to put the workers? Where are they supposed to live? In every community. So, in New Jersey and Connecticut, and I tip my hat to them, they're creating enough housing for new jobs in their states. At the same time, New York State built 850,000 fewer units than the jobs that were created. Jobs are plentiful, but where are the workers supposed to live?

That's the question we're asking today. And I deployed my brilliant team, my policy team led by Micah Lasher, to leave no stone unturned in our quest for creative solutions. And throughout the summer and fall, we were busy. Yes, we're busy with that, but we also are busy working on our policy. We have been pressure-testing ideas from experts and looking around the country. Are there models that work? Going to think tanks, talking among ourselves, having conversations about what are the answers to this. And as a result of a very deliberative, lengthy process that continues for hours still every day, it's always in my schedule talking about this issue, we arrived at some very bold and impactful initiatives and ideas that will not be easy at all, but they're necessary. They're necessary.

So, I will say this: More will be revealed in my State of the State address. I know you're a lot of policy wonks and you're dying, "What is the answer? Tell us, tell us, tell us, oh, Governor, what is the answer?" And let's talk about today as maybe being more of a trailer for the movie than the premiere in January. Okay. So, I just want to get you interested in seeing the characters and the players and the actors and something that has to unfold. And it has to be an Oscar winner. We have no choice. This has to be extraordinary because I'm aware in many spaces. Yesterday, where was I? In a tiny place called Whitehall, New York. Who can find that? Okay, just Google it. It's like her son. 2,500 people live in this community, but it is the start of a revolution where we're building a 339-mile transmission line to bring power from Qu├ębec, hydropower, renewable power, all the way down the Hudson to power, yes, New York City. I told this tiny community what you're doing here today is going to help power the homes of one million residents in New York City. So, we are thinking big, we're thinking bold, we're acting bold, but we have to be just as bold and audacious in the housing space. And I am. And I'm willing to be.

And I want to be clear about some things. Let's talk about what did not cause the situation where we are. It's not from a lack of state funding for affordable housing because New York funds more subsidized affordable housing per capita than any other state. All those states that have blown past us. And that includes the historic investment I just made in the last year. We're also a national leader when it comes to tenant protections. Nearly half of our state's rental stock is public or rent-regulated. No other state comes close. So, it's not that either. Here's the real problem. We're a national leader in blocking housing. Don't take my word for it. I appreciate that, but I wouldn't applaud that one. That's bad. I'll tell you when to applaud. That's bad news. Don't take my word for it, the Brookings Institute says that the suburban county surrounding New York City we know where they are maybe the worst in the country in terms of our regulatory and zoning hurdles.

New York is essentially in a league of its own when it comes to constricting housing development. And because of years-long processes, years and years, they're so cumbersome, they prevent new houses from being built here. Places like Seattle, Austin, Atlanta, Miami, Denver, Washington, DC - where I used to live, are developing new housing units at a rate two to four times the rate of New York City. Let me repeat that. These other cities are developing new housing units at a rate two to four times higher than New York City. We're also still being outpaced by San Francisco, Boston, Los Angeles, all those cities have housing shortages, and you read about them, and they're in the news, but they don't touch the scale of the New York Metropolitan region. So, while the lack of new affordable housing in New York City in the metropolitan region is staggering in its own right, it's even worse in our suburbs.

Virtually no new housing has been created in large swaths of New York City, the region, the metro area for years compared with suburban areas across the country. Westchester and Long Island are at the very bottom of the list for new housing permits. And you know I'm an Upstater, I don't think that's a secret, although I spend probably more time in New York City than most residents have these days, but there's real warning size that this is also manifesting itself statewide as well. With home prices and rental costs being outside the reach of what people could afford anymore. So, it's not just a tech worker who is looking to live in Manhattan are close by. Westchester, Long Island, the workers that are now coming to our burgeoning tech areas in Upstate New York, and there are now many. They come to a place like Buffalo because they're offered a great tech job now, they're having the same problems. My young staff up in Upstate New York, they can't find a place to rent that they can afford. They can't. The idea of buying a house is so out of their reach.

So, here we are. We're in competition with other parts of the country, Maryland, Virginia, California, Pennsylvania, for the top talent. We want the smartest the best the brightest and most innovative, the risk takers, to continue coming here because that's what made New York what it is. We know that. But we're in competition with other states literally with our hands tied behind our backs. That's what it feels like. And all these other states have such an advantage. Here's an example, from 2012 to 2021, the parts of New Jersey closest to New York City have built four to five times more housing per capita as suburban Long Island. See what this does? Now it's one thing if California's building a lot of housing. I don't think anybody's going to commute from California to Long Island or New York City. Telecommute, maybe. But the close in geographic states that have done the work and built the inventory are the ones that are poised to capture the talent that are coming to the jobs that are right here in our own state. I tell you, as Governor, that's frustrating.

I don't want to see that. I want to see those smart people working in our state and living in our state. I want their families to be educated here. I want their grandkids to live here someday as well. So again, I'll just make a couple more points, in case you haven't gotten the picture. this is kind of a scary trailer when I think about it. I was just on Long Island this week announcing a major investment in the life sciences corridor, research corridor. It's extraordinary what is happening there, extraordinary. Even more jobs are going to be coming as a result. The unemployment rate on Long Island already right now, today, 2.2 percent. The jobs are there. They're looking for workers. But we have a situation where people have a job waiting for them in a place like Long Island or parts or New York City or parts of the downside area. The jobs are waiting for them. They can't find housing in the afford. Guess where they're going? They're going to those houses that were built in New Jersey that I just described.

So, the unrealized capacity that we have for more housing production and not taking advantage of that is unconscionable. And I think it's morally reprehensible that we're not creating opportunities for people who want to call New York their home. And the impact is potentially catastrophic in the near term and far term. So, this becomes a threat to our economic health. Something else I'm watching intensely as we see the headwinds, you know, talk of recessions and inflation continuing to go up and interest rates going up. You know, I watch all this very closely with the knowledge that, you know, we're often - we're the canary in the mine. We were the heart of the pandemic. We get hit hard when Wall Street isn't doing well. Wall Street is ours. It's New York City. So, what we have done is create a situation. We failed to build the housing, create the housing, whether it's new builds, conversions, retrofits. We've not adequately done our job there to match the jobs that are created.

But also rental prices, home prices, they're all going up. I'm just talking about inventory. I've been talking about how we haven't built. I didn't even get into prices. I haven't talked about the prices. In the metro area since 2015, home prices are up 50 percent. Rents are up 30 percent since 2015. That wasn't that long ago. The rest of the state home prices are up 50 to 80 percent. Rents are up 35 to 55 in the same timeframe all over the state. All. And more than half of New York renters spend 30 percent of their income on rent, which means they're rent burdened. So, renters are limited in where they can live, the type of apartment they can live in. It's hard for lower income people whose rents have gone up exponentially and people are having to make decisions that they otherwise wouldn't make.

And truthfully, the lack of affordable housing or housing overall in our state goes against the very concept of what fairness is because the idea that if you work hard, you play by the rules that you should be able to achieve successes that I describe my own family's success was viewed as could you move out of that trailer into this little place. Rent a place. You could get that tiny little Cape Cod house. That's how we judge success because that's how people feel. They feel like they're moving upwards. They have this sense, "I've become something, I'm going someplace and I'm leaving a legacy for my kids and the expectations, if they work hard, they can have the same." And how can we be the first generation that's not willing to give our kids and grandkids the same opportunities for advancement that we enjoyed? So, this has become - has potentially become an out-migration crisis. People talk about the reasons people may consider leaving. Believe me, I've heard them all. I also know there's a lot of people who want to live here too.

I know they want to live here. You see what's happening in other states out west. I won't name a really big one, but people are leaving that state. The tech jobs that defined a region, Silicon Valley for a generation, they're now coming here. They don't want to be in suburban office parks. They want to be together. That's one thing the pandemic taught us, that that loss of a human connection was real. It was devastating. We're seeing the mental health effects to this day, but also those who have the mobility want to be with other people again. This is the place they want to be. This is our opportunity to seize. So if we don't, if we don't observe the warning signs that are flashing right now, we're going to continue on this path and it's not good. But that doesn't have to be our destiny. I'm not accepting it. If we do the hard things, which turn out to be the right things, we can transform this crisis into an opportunity.

Economists from the University of Chicago and Berkeley conducted a study on the nation's housing crisis. It has a jaw-dropping conclusion. Here's what they said. If San Jose, San Francisco, and New York, just those three cities had by 2009, not that long ago, 2009, adopted housing supply regulations similar to the median U.S. city, meaning that they were not restrictive, they're as open as they are in the median U.S. city. Picture those three areas, building the way the rest of the country was during this timeframe. The GDP for the entire nation would've gone up 14 percent. Wow. Just imagine if we did half of that, if we did half of what we were supposed to do during that timeframe.

Think of the people who could live here. Think of the upward mobility that'd be allowed. And think about what that can mean for the economic growth of New York. If we stop miring in the past, that in the old ways be the new ways and saying, "Stop, it's over." We need to have this common vision. I know everybody in this room shares this. We all do. No matter what your income status, you should be able to look upward and say, "I can achieve something and not have these barriers that are created by someone else in a government or policymakers who refuse to open up the potential that should be there waiting for every single New Yorker." Our state motto is "excelsior." It means ever upward, and that's what we want in economic growth as well. So, taking bold action right now, leaning hard into the challenges. Those of you who don't know me well may realize I actually like a good fight. I am up for the task. I embrace it because if it's easy, it would've been done already, right? The easy things are done. The question is, do we have the fortitude, the guts to do what has to be done to reverse the trend that we're on? Because it's not sustainable, and I don't want to have to deal with the scrutiny of future generations, whether I'm around or not. I'll hear about it somehow.

Those who look back at this time and said they saw what was happening, they had all the data. They knew from employers they couldn't find people to work in the jobs because there's no place for people to live that they could afford and the discontinued disintegration of families because you don't have the grandma or the grandpa to impart values. People are going to say, "Why didn't you wake up back in 2022, 2023, and do something about it, New York?" I don't want to hear that. I want them to say something radically different. I want them to say, "Yes, there were institutional barriers. There was NIMBYism on steroids." And I had to deal with this in my town, and I know exactly what I'm talking about.

All these factors were out there. Don't come to my community because you don't look like me. I don't want you here. That has to be over, and we will send a message across the nation of who we are as a people when we take these actions coupled with our leaning hard into the environment and lifting people up and focusing on education and opportunity and job training. We do all these parts and have a place for people to live or continue that upward mobility in housing. This is the place people want to be. It can be the New York that we've always had in our minds.

I can be a dreamer too, but I'm a doer. We have a chance to do something extraordinary here. I will meet this with the fortitude and the zeal that's going to be required because we've never had a statewide strategy on housing before. But under my administration, that will change in January. We will act boldly. Not next year, not the next day. There's no kicking this can down the road. I'm picking that can up right now. I'm saying, "We're going to fix this." And this today, my friends with all of you because we all know how high the stakes are. You'll hear our ideas. We want to talk to you about them over the next couple of weeks.

I know there's going to be critics. I know there's critics. I know what that feels like. But I will not be deterred. I will not be deterred in our quest because every community, every small town, every local zoning board, every planning board, every community has a role to play, and they must, and they must. And I think all of you will help us activate the advocacy and education campaigns that are going to be required to help people change their mindset around this challenge. It won't be easy. We're New Yorkers. We don't back down. We're tough. We dream big, and we do big. And we, ultimately, do what's right. And I thank all of you for being on this journey with me as we continue to lean hard into a better future for all New Yorkers.

Thank you very much.


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