The Real Estate Board of New York to The New York State Assembly Standing Committees on the State Fiscal Year 2021-2022 State Budget for NYS HCR

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The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) is the City’s leading real estate trade association representing commercial, residential, and institutional property owners, builders, managers, investors, brokers, salespeople, and other organizations and individuals active in New York City real estate. Thank you to Chair Cymbrowitz and members of the Housing Committee for the opportunity to provide testimony on the State Fiscal Year 2021-2022 budget for the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (HCR).

As of the most recent census, over 8.8 million people call New York City home – a 7% increase from the previous decade.1 Over roughly the same period, the city gained only 206,000 new homes2 - producing significantly less housing units per 1000 residents as compared to other high cost cities in the country such as San Francisco, and much, much less as compared to other growing peer cities in terms of jobs and people such as Seattle and Denver.3 Putting aside the math of unit counts, 290,000 New York households live in overcrowded conditions4 and 47,979 New Yorkers sleep in the municipal shelter system each night.5 Approximately 68% of city households are renters6, and 26% of renters in New York City pay more than 50% of their income towards rent7.

By all indicators, New York has not kept pace with its housing needs. These indicators also show a particularly acute need for below market rate rental and supportive housing. As part of the city’s efforts to affirmatively further fair housing, and the result of the culmination of a two year engagement process, the City of New York’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) issued a report, Where We Live NYC. The report includes several recommendations related to land use planning, incentive programs, and calls for the expansion of housing options throughout the five boroughs. The Obama-era HUD rule on which this report is principled was coupled with a housing tool kit which keenly understood that the suppression of housing creation will create further distance between the available supply and demand of housing. The suppression increases housing costs and decreases opportunities for neighborhood integration. The State and City must expand housing supply and seriously consider how various levers of regulation impact housing construction and job growth.

The State’s prior five-year housing plan took a step towards boosting housing production, but more can and should be done. The upcoming five-year plan presents a unique opportunity to make significant public investments in housing production throughout New York City. To ensure increased housing supply, we need strong partners in and close collaboration between state and local governments and the private sector, new tools and ideas, increased public investment, and cross-sector partnerships to facilitate this work. We also need innovative new tools and revisions to existing tools to optimize housing production of market rate and affordable units to meet current and future housing needs.

If executed correctly, these tools can and will play a critical role in ensuring greater housing production across the board. They can also help correct the many inequities exacerbated by COVID-19 such as rent burden, overcrowding, and homelessness. New York’s housing crisis is dire and complex and requires a multi-pronged approach of preservation, production, and conversion to the meet the full breadth of need and provide options in existing neighborhoods of opportunity to tenants. This does not negate the need for further investment by the city in infrastructure and community facilities’ needs. In addition to considering new and existing tools, the upcoming five-year housing plan must make significant public investments to help meet the unprecedented demand for new affordable and supportive homes.

The State should allocate more capital funding to build homes and increase operating dollars to ensure buildings are in safe condition and that tenants live in safe homes. The State should also deepen its investment in rental assistance to keep rents low for vulnerable New Yorkers while ensuring buildings have enough cash flow to operate these units. Doing so will adequately leverage the resources of the private sector to match the tools from the public sector, thereby further strengthening the public-private partnership model that is responsible for a significant proportion of our affordable rental and homeownership opportunities and supportive housing production.

Existing HCR programs provide a strong foundation to boost rental and homeownership projects across the City and State. However, such investments and innovation will only go so far without coordination between the State and the City. Coordination is needed not just in the allocation of resources but in the siting of homes. The New York City Council recently passed two new laws to help facilitate honest conversation around where housing is built and why. The Equitable Development Data Tool and Racial Equity Reports will require the study of potential displacement in neighborhoods prior to a rezoning. The Council also passed the Climate Change Adaptation Plan which will require the City to create a citywide climate adaptation plan to evaluate risk once every ten years. New York State should ensure that any planning efforts incorporate the results of these and other local tools to ensure housing production is distributed across the city, sited appropriately, and solves for the ever-increasing challenges posed by climate change. The advent of a new Mayoral administration and the prospect of a new local multi-year housing plan provides an opportunity for collaboration between City and State.

Another public policy goal that the housing plan could address is ensuring new construction and opportunities for substantial rehabilitation contribute to climate adaptation. Adopting sustainability driven measures as criteria for accessing programs should provide an opportunity for universal agreement. Additionally, providing direct subsidy dollars for system wide upgrades in existing buildings to reduce emissions or electrify spaces will ensure this complicated work is done.

The housing plan should also consider dollars for increased voucher eligibility and value. Enabling more effective use of rental assistance, especially in high-amenity areas, will expand housing choice for New Yorkers across neighborhoods. Broader rental assistance may also provide for mobility and increased opportunity. Expanding voucher programs that supplement families facing eviction, homelessness or loss of housing is a proven cost-effective method of ensuring people can stay in their homes. Academic papers from both the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the National Bureau of Economic Research document that it is more cost-effective for government intervention to keep or place someone in their home than it is to provide temporary shelter.

The need for increased homeownership opportunities, below market-rate housing, and supportive housing is clear, and so, too, is the role of both the City and State in meeting these goals. However, financial tools may not be enough to meet the high demand for housing in an increasingly high-cost city. For this reason, the State ought to also consider regulatory relief as part of the housing plan. Again, successful efforts to increase both housing production and accessibility should consider removal of barriers such as exclusionary zoning and adding flexibility for conversions, and the incentives necessary to encourage the private sector to rapidly increase housing production. Without harnessing the tools of the private sector to build market rate housing and meet the demand, we will strain our already existing naturally occurring affordable housing stock and other forms of affordable housing.

Now more than ever, New Yorkers need safe and healthy homes in which to live. REBNY supports efforts to increase the number and quality of those homes, and are ready to work productively with the City, the State, and our partners in the Legislature to ensure quality housing for our fellow New Yorkers.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony to the New York State Assembly, and for taking these comments into consideration.