Hochul’s 2024 State of the State: Heavy on Taylor Swift, Light on Tenant Protections
But $275 million for developing an artificial intelligence research hub here in the Empire State!
4:59 PM EST on January 9, 2024
On Tuesday afternoon in Albany, Governor Kathy Hochul gave her third State of the State speech, laying out an agenda that was markedly less ambitious than last year's doomed housing compact. "Fighting crime, fixing our mental health system, and protecting New Yorkers' hard earned money," was how Hochul framed her plans. Also, the governor quoted "the philosopher Taylor Swift."
The speech was long, and the book detailing her priorities is even longer, so let's begin.
Governor Hochul has no use for new tenant protections, like Good Cause Eviction
While the governor noted that New Yorkers are suffering from "obscenely high costs of rents and mortgages caused by the unconscionable shortage of housing in New York," her remedy for those obscenities is not to pass laws that would keep tenants in their homes, but to leverage existing money and executive power to encourage developers to build more housing.
"Here's what I know: Spending more money, or insisting on new regulations will not get us out of the deep hole dug by decades of inaction, or overcome the lack of courage to do simply what is required," Hochul said. "Already, New York has vastly more regulated housing stock than any other states, but it still hasn't meant more homes for people. And that's where the status quo has failed. It's a Band-Aid when we need reconstructive surgery."
This version of history ignores the nearly 150,000 units of regulated housing New York City has lost since 1994, and does nothing to help New Yorkers who struggle every month to pay rent. According to a recent analysis of U.S. Census figures by the Community Service Society, 55 percent of all New Yorkers are rent-burdened, meaning they pay more than a third of their income on housing; poor New Yorkers are also overwhelmingly severely rent-burdened, meaning that at least half of their income goes to rent.
For these reasons and more, organizations like Housing Justice for All were pushing the state legislature and the governor to pass a version of Good Cause Eviction last year, which would cap rent increases and prevent landlords from kicking tenants out just because their lease expired. That didn't happen. The legislature blamed the governor, and the governor all but dared the legislature to call it for a vote. Last week, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins both suggested that tenant protections could be on the table as part of a larger housing compromise that includes incentives for developers.
So instead of pushing legislation to shore up renters, the governor wants to enact a handful of less ambitious reforms instead. Her policy book lists three, on page 54: allowing New York City to legalize basement apartments, more strictly enforcing the state's laws to ensure that landlords accept housing vouchers, and prohibiting insurance companies from denying policies to affordable housing.
"Skyrocketing rents are driving New York’s affordability crisis—and yet the governor continues to oppose basic tenant protections against rent hikes and evictions," Cea Weaver, campaign coordinator of Housing Justice for All, said in a statement. "Governor Hochul’s so-called affordability agenda leaves out renters, who make up half the state…Governor Hochul is clearly more concerned with pleasing her billionaire real estate donors than with keeping New Yorkers in their homes and off the streets."
"Let them build"
Hochul's housing plan last year was ambitious in its scope: Build 800,000 new homes over a decade, using a series of incentives—and penalties—for the suburbs, where NIMBYism reigns and where the new housing stock numbers are truly pathetic. That plan died, and Hochul acknowledged its failure.
"I remember last year, many of the loudest voices in opposition said they believed in local control. OK, let's put that to the test," Hochul said, before launching into her plan to help Mayor Eric Adams with his goal of building 500,000 new units of housing over the next decade, using an executive order version of the 421-a tax break, removing zoning restrictions, legalizing existing basement apartments, and providing money to convert commercial buildings ("That can't be hard," Hochul said, about something that is actually pretty tricky to do with New York City's commercial buildings.) "Let them build!"
At this moment in the speech, the governor invoked Mayor Adams's name, and he was all smiles.
While the governor said she favors a new tax break for developers, she didn't provide any actual details on what it would look like. The ball is in the legislature's court to come up with the opening bid of a grand bargain on housing.
"The governor’s plan to use executive power for housing on state land and improve the pro-housing incentive program are positive steps," Annemarie Gray, the executive director of the YIMBY group Open New York said in a statement. "But given New York’s severe home shortage and affordability crisis, now it is the state legislature’s turn to lead with real proposals to build more homes."
The richest New Yorkers can breathe a sigh of relief and open another bottle of Montrachet
As expected, the governor did not make any mention of raising taxes on wealthy New Yorkers. The introduction of her policy book has an interesting line about "protecting your hard earned money from…politicians who want to raise your taxes," but she didn't say it. Instead, she insisted that "we cannot spend money we don’t have."
Asylum seekers and budget gap plans are TBA
Early in her speech, Hochul told the lawmakers assembled before her that they wouldn't be hearing about the state's projected $4 billion deficit, or how she would assist in caring for asylum seekers being bused into New York, which was arguably the biggest reason Adams was in Albany today. That will come next week, when she formally presents her budget.
In a statement, the director of the left-leaning Fiscal Policy Institute, Nathan Gusdorf, said that the $4 billion deficit should not deter the governor and the legislature from investing in more social programs in order to stop poor and middle-class New Yorkers from fleeing the state in record numbers.
"While a shrinking middle-class workforce poses a risk for the state’s economic future, New York’s current fiscal indicators are stable and show that the state could significantly increase public investment," Gusdorf said. "Revenues have returned to normal rates after a year of COVID surpluses, the state recently cut the budget gap in half, and New York’s high earning population continues to grow—all signs of fiscal stability."
The climate crisis went unmentioned
Yes, there were fleeting references to wind energy and jobs and all that, but nothing specific about what the state is actually doing to meet the urgent, legally mandated deadlines to undergo the massive conversion to renewable energy necessary to prevent a climate catastrophe. But there is some good news on this front, as Hochul has already announced (but not in her speech) she will embrace an important component of the New York HEAT Act, which will slow the perpetuation of natural gas hook-ups.
Plans to address the mental health crisis…
The governor wants to create an "era-defining mental health initiative," which means ensuring that all New Yorkers have access to mental health resources, and also ensuring that those with severe mental illness have access to hospital beds if they need them, and the aftercare necessary to help them live their lives.
…but no plans to address the opioid crisis with life-saving safe injection sites
Hochul noted her personal history here—her nephew died of an opioid overdose—in a pledge to do more to stop fatal overdoses, which remain at record highs in New York City. But she did not say she would declare a state of emergency, as some advocates have urged her to do, nor did she commit to using state funding on safe injection sites.
A somewhat creepy line about AI
The governor wants to allocate a total of $275 million over the next decade to fund artificial intelligence research done by New York's private and public universities.
"Whoever dominates the AI industry will dominate the next era of human history," Hochul said.
- Hochul wants New York City to be able to lower its own speed limits, and will put that in her executive budget. The measure, known as Sammy's Law, failed last year, but perhaps 2024 is the year some lawmakers grow a spine.
- She also wants to allocate $8 billion to extend the Second Avenue Subway to West Harlem.
- The beginning of Hochul's speech lauded how much she has done to improve access to childcare for New Yorkers, but neglected to mention that last month, she vetoed a bill to do just that.
- A large portion of the speech was dedicated to retail theft and the "disorder" it causes. Her solution? More money for prosecutors and more laws on the books.
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