By Joshua Solomon | Times Union, Albany
Albany, N.Y. — Euphrasia Kippins, a single mother, works two jobs and averages about three hours of sleep a night these days.
Her 11-year-old daughter goes to the public school that both Kippins and her mother also had attended. They live together in a two-family house in North Albany. For two years she had searched for a new home, but had come to terms with the fact that there seemed to be no housing stock that could meet her needs and price in the city in which she grew up.
“It’s just ridiculous to live,” Kippins said. “How do you support yourself and your family?”
During her search, she kept her eyes on the decaying sky-blue corner cottage across the street.
The local crossing guard used to live there, she said, but the house has been abandoned for a decade and fell into foreclosure.
She would watch prospective buyers — none from the area — come by and consider purchasing the property.
“I don’t think they see the value of the home itself,” Kippins said. “I think they just look at it as a profit.”
But after the Albany County Land Bank acquired it, it set up an opportunity for Kippins, who like so many others in New York had found themselves in a seemingly fruitless search for affordable housing.
Home owner Euphrasia Kippins stands in front of the Albany house she purchased through Albany County Land Bank and is in the process of renovating.
As the state grapples with its nation-leading exodus of residents over the past two years and a potential economic downturn that it could bring, Gov. Kathy Hochul has turned to the issue of housing as her key platform this year.
“Here’s the real problem: We’re a national leader in blocking housing,” Hochul said in a speech last month. ” New York is essentially in a league of its own when it comes to constricting housing development. Because of years-long processes, years and years, they’re so cumbersome they prevent new houses.”
In Hochul’s State of the State address scheduled to take place Tuesday, she is expected to offer a vision focused on creating more pathways to building new homes while keeping her distance, at the time being, from major changes in tenant protections or funding for subsidized housing.
Among Hochul’s top goals are to create up to 1 million new housing units over the next decade.
Hochul has noted that job growth has outpaced new home growth by about 850,000 jobs-to-units over the last decade, with half a million coming from just the New York City metro area. Much of the proposed housing creation is therefore expected to be centered downstate, an industry source said.
“This time it’s not for the lack of jobs,” Hochul said. “It’s actually quite the opposite. The jobs are here, but the housing is not.”
The method to do so, according to comments from the governor and interviews with experts, may focus on the details of housing policy: changing certain zoning rules; creating new tax incentives; highlighting transit-oriented development; streamlining environmental review for construction with few units; potentially forming an appeals board for local disputes to streamline a process that often bottlenecks; opening a pathway for specific types of accessory dwelling units; and adjusting rules on hotel-to-residential conversions.
Hochul may have already rebuffed the two top concerns for progressives, who have clearly outlined their agenda as “good cause eviction” regulations and $1 billion over the next four years for the state’s housing voucher program.
“I want to be clear about some things,” Hochul said in a December speech at the New York Housing Conference awards. “Let’s talk about what did not cause the situation where we are.”
She said it’s “not from a lack of state funding for affordable housing,” pointing to New York having spent more on it per capita than any other state. She also referred back to New York’s $25 billion, five-year capital plan that it committed to last year, which was primarily focused on existing inventory.
Hochul said the state is a “national leader when it comes to tenant protections” and nearly half of rentals are regulated or public.
“No other state comes close,” she said, “so it’s not that either.”
The expected fight this session among Democrats, who hold supermajorities in both houses and control the governor’s seat, is over whether to support “good cause eviction,” a tenant protection, and the state’s housing access voucher program, of which advocates are seeking $250 million in the first year, scaling up to $1 billion over four years.
Of the two policies, the housing voucher program is expected to have a broader tent.
An industry source said a fully funded voucher program is preferred over additional tenant protections, because oftentimes evictions are more than a few thousand dollars. Therefore, an additional subsidy for people who do not already qualify for very low-income housing can help thwart potential evictions.
For progressive housing groups, good cause eviction is an essential part of any successful housing plan.
“What we’re expecting is she’s going to try to solve it through unleashing the potential of the private market to build a lot of new housing,” said Cea Weaver, a campaign organizer for Housing Justice for All. “We don’t think that is going to work.”
The concern, Weaver said, is by “deregulating” the market without a “deep capital investment,” the governor risks producing little housing for those who are in most need of assistance, all the while displacing those in their current homes.
“The approach she’s outlining is probably really good for middle class people,” Weaver said.
Instead, Weaver said, protections for tenants that not only include shielding someone from an eviction because they asked for a repair, but also because the rent was increased too much over a calendar year are vital. The city of Albany passed a version of “good cause,” but a court found it lacking legitimacy. Based on the ruling, advocates view it as the role of the state Legislature to fix.
Advocates point to the need that was demonstrated during the pandemic by renters. The state paid out at least $2.7 billion in emergency rental assistance, helping those who could not make their rent because of a lost job caused by the pandemic.
Housing advocates rally outside Albany Albany City Hall, where Albany City Court is located, to demand the passage and full funding of Statewide Right to Counsel legislation on Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, in Albany, N.Y.Housing advocates rally outside Albany Albany City Hall, where Albany City Court is located, to demand the passage and full funding of Statewide Right to Counsel legislation on Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, in Albany, N.Y. Will Waldron/Times Union
Open New York, a group focused on building homes at lower rents, recently came out in favor of the “good cause” eviction legislation, a welcome surprise from progressives.
Annemarie Gray, executive director of Open New York, said the group came out in favor of the policy as part of a broader set of goals that include building a substantial amount of additional housing.
In a way, it can help as a lifeline during a crisis point, with hopes that building enough additional housing will normalize the marketplace, bringing rents back to more affordable costs.
“We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Gray said. “It all comes back to that we desperately need more housing supply.”
Gray believes Hochul has been “saying all of the right” things related to housing policy.
She views accessory-dwelling units — which turned into a massively controversial policy point last year after Republicans previewed their political strength in the New York City suburbs — as a need.
The “ADUs” could fall into two separate policy categories. One for basement apartments in New York City — which faced fatal flooding during a hurricane in 2021 — and accessory dwellings in suburban homes, which advocates say are intended for elderly parents, recent college graduates, large families and refugees.
While the Real Estate Board of New York has yet to put out a public policy memo on its goals for this session, its vice president of planning said in a statement that, as Hochul has noted, ” New York City urgently needs more rental housing, including a significant number of below market rate units.”
“We hope the Legislature will work with her on this critical issue in 2023 by putting forward common-sense policies that produce more of the rental housing New Yorkers desperately need,” Basha Gerhards, senior vice president of planning at REBNY, said.
REBNY has not come out in favor of “good cause.” It has recently been vocal in support of greater access to housing vouchers to help keep renters in their homes if they want.
The vacant John P. Taylor Apartments towers owned by the Troy Housing Authority are being demolished to make way for new public housing on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023, on River at Congress St. in Troy, N.Y. Taylor 1 and 2, which were built in the 1950s, have been vacant since 2006. Taylor 3 and 4 are open and will be replaced. The residents in these two buildings will have the opportunity to move into the new Taylor residence.The vacant John P. Taylor Apartments towers owned by the Troy Housing Authority are being demolished to make way for new public housing on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023, on River at Congress St. in Troy, N.Y. Taylor 1 and 2, which were built in the 1950s, have been vacant since 2006. Taylor 3 and 4 are open and will be replaced. The residents in these two buildings will have the opportunity to move into the new Taylor residence. Will Waldron/Times Union
Other types of housing are also believed to be in consideration.
Both mental health and addiction recovery advocates have emphasized the need for stable housing for their most at-need constituents. Others have pushed for housing for the elderly so they can move out of their homes and free up more of the housing stock. Some have pushed for accessible housing for immigrants and refugees.
Adam Zaranko, executive director of the Albany County Land Bank Corporation, has pushed for more funding for land banks and land trusts. (Last year, the state approved a record $50 million for land banks, which he said has been incredibly helpful.)
“It’s the tip of the iceberg because we’re breaking cycles of disinvestment that are 80-plus years long,” Zaranko said.
He is also hopeful for additional measures that can help incentivize a county to give foreclosed property to a land bank instead of offering it up at an auction.
Zaranko, who is also the president of the New York Land Bank Association, sees land banks as a way to take foreclosed land or empty lots and find a way to secure the long-term affordability of that home in concert with a community land trust. He views it as a “two-for-one.”
That way, it can try to avoid displacement of people from the neighborhood, while also potentially having beneficial effects on the area’s public safety by no longer having a vacant, decaying property on the block.
Home owner Euphrasia Kippins walks through the house she purchased through Albany County Land Bank and is in the process of renovating on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023, in Albany, N.Y.Home owner Euphrasia Kippins walks through the house she purchased through Albany County Land Bank and is in the process of renovating on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023, in Albany, N.Y. Will Waldron/Times Union
By March, Kippins expects to move into the home that was acquired by the Albany County Land Bank.
It’s currently under construction. Plaid wallpaper with a pattern of fruit baskets and daisies peels from the studs that likely rested over the kitchen from a life past.
She explains which gutted room will be the laundry room and which one will be her bedroom. And then she points to where her daughter has claimed a future bedroom.
Kippins plans to shift gears toward her business she started before the pandemic, “Let It Roll,” that offers custom eggrolls.
In the interim, she’s been working a 9-to-5 job and a second job on the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift.
Having her mother around helps with caring for her daughter, too — something Hochul has said is becoming more rare during the housing crisis.
“If you can’t live near your grandchildren if you want to, something’s breaking down the social order, the fabric is breaking down,” Hochul said last month.
She points to both the cost of child care and more ephemeral qualities that get shared when family is around.
“This new crisis could potentially block families from achieving their dreams or forcing them to go elsewhere to achieve them,” Hochul said.
Kippins is hopeful that when she moves into her new home, she can shift her focus back to her business.
“I’m a homeowner,” Kippins said. “I have to be 1,000 percent successful in my business.”
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