After Governor Kathy Hochul’s “New York Housing Compact” earlier this year to mandate housing construction near railroad lines downstate fell flat in the New York State Legislature, she decided instead this summer through an executive order to launch a program known as Pro-Housing Community Certification, giving communities access to $650 million in discretionary state grant funding if they pledge to provide housing.

While the initial proposal was broadly seen as an over-reaching mandate by the governor’s office, with little respect for local zoning laws, the new program instead provides financial incentives for communities to increase the amount of housing stock within their boundaries.

It looks very similar East End State Assemblyman Fred Thiele’s proposal to modify the Housing Compact in the State Assembly’s March Budget Resolution, which would have eliminated mandates and zoning overrides and replaced them with $500 million in state aid to local municipalities as an incentive to build affordable housing.

The first step for municipalities to qualify as Pro-Housing Communities is to either pass a resolution stating their commitment to Pro-Housing principles, or to submit documentation that their housing stock has increased by one percent in the previous year or three percent over the previous three years.

The Greenport Village Board unanimously passed just such a resolution on Nov. 16, pledging to streamline permitting and adopting polices for multifamily housing, affordable and accessible housing, accessory dwelling unites and supportive housing, affirming fair housing policies, incorporating regional housing needs into planning decisions and increasing development capacity for residential uses.

“This brings us to the top of the list for affordable housing and revitalization of our downtown,” said Mayor Kevin Stuessi as he voted for the resolution. “There’s a huge pile of money in Albany that they’re expecting to start handing out next year.”

Deputy Mayor Mary Bess Phillips said she wants to be sure “we’re in control of our zoning, not the governor’s office.”

“The governor met a lot of resistance trying to encourage this in her budget,” she said of the Housing Compact plan shot down by the legislature earlier this year. “I want to make sure we’re not going to have certain zoning dictated to us.”

Village Attorney Brian Stolar told the board this new program does not obligate the village to adhere to rules set in Albany.

Village Trustee Patrick Brennan said he wants to ensure that streamlining permitting for multifamily housing doesn’t include market-rate housing.

This “seems to be different than affordable or accessible housing,” he said of streamlining approval of multi-family housing. “I would not be behind streamlining any of this unless it supported those other objectives…. I wouldn’t be wanting to lower the threshold for a developer to build more high end housing.”

A series of code changes adopted by the village in late October included changing the zoning on the south side of Front Street from Waterfront Commercial to Commercial Retail zoning, which allows apartments above the stores there.

“I hope we can see those storage and offices spaces converted to housing,” said Mr. Stuessi, adding that the village’s next step will be to look into an affordable housing overlay district downtown that will provide incentives for property owners who add affordable housing to their buildings, after which we “can move into the neighborhoods and start looking at ADUs (accessory dwelling units.”

“We need to bring this to the community over the next few months, do surveys and get feedback,” he added. “Clearly it is a huge need.”

The state grant funding for eligible municipalities will be administered by the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal, through programs including the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, the NY Forward Program, the Regional Council Capital Fund, the New York Main Street Program, the Long Island Investment Fund and the Public Transportation Modernization Enhancement Program.

“Local governments are a critical part of the solution to the housing shortage in New York State and we now have a program in place to reward them for their efforts,” said New York State Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas when the program was announced in August. “Communities who do their part to increase housing supply will receive a boost in their applications for some of the State’s most in-demand discretionary funding streams. This is a win-win for everyone and an important step toward growing the housing that New York needs.”To be designated a Pro-Housing Community, municipalities must provide key information about their local zoning map/code and information detailing local housing permit approvals over the past five years.

“This village is considered, and duly noted, by the State of New York as a disadvantaged community,” said Mr. Stuessi. “We will be at the very top of receiving grants, if we are able to earn them. I’m hoping this is a very important thing. We’re sitting here at Thanksgiving, and we know how much the prices of houses have gone up. This is the foundation for the work this board would like to do.”

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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