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Hochul pushes plan for 800K housing units to help spur NY’s post-pandemic economy

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Facing concerns that New York City’s recovery from the pandemic may be slowing down, Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams stood before business leaders on Wednesday to promote a shared vision of prioritizing housing, mass transit, childcare and public safety for New Yorkers as each enters their second full year in office.

“After some positive trends for a while, we seemed to have plateaued,” Hochul said at a breakfast gathering in Lower Manhattan hosted by the civic group Association for a Better New York. She cited recent trends in office occupancy, subway ridership and foot traffic in Midtown.

“So we have to break away,” she added. “We have to identify and embrace policies that will get us off this plateau and lead us back to climbing the mountain.”

In a speech that was short on policy details, Hochul did lay out one specific goal: the creation of 800,000 units of housing over the next decade. She pledged to lay out a comprehensive housing plan in her State of the State address on Jan. 10. Her announcement comes on the heels of a similar plan pushed by Adams, in which he pledged 500,000 units of housing.

Speaking to concerns about the city’s business districts, Adams — who has required municipal employees to work in person — acknowledged that hybrid work would be here to stay. “We’re going to have a combination of remote work,” he said.

The promise by two of the most prominent officials in the state to push policies that will spur the recovery comes at a critical juncture in the pandemic. New York is facing potential economic headwinds from a possible recession and slower job growth. Office vacancy is at 48% of pre-pandemic levels, according to a recent report from the city comptroller. MTA data has shown the latest weekday subway ridership at under 65% compared to pre-pandemic levels.

The event also showcased the findings of the “New New York Panel,” a group of business leaders, academics, labor leaders and others tasked with coming up with ways to kick-start the city’s post-pandemic recovery.

Led by Richard Buery, CEO of antipoverty charity Robin Hood, and Dan Doctoroff, a former Bloomberg administration official who went on to found Sidewalk Labs, an urban planning company, the panel published a 159-page report on Wednesday that laid out 40 initiatives the panel wants the state and city governments to key in on.

Report’s findings

The report makes the case that New York City’s economic recovery has been uneven at best, with Midtown and Lower Manhattan bearing the brunt of the burden. While consumer spending in business districts like Long Island City, Downtown Brooklyn and Jamaica has outgained pre-2020 numbers, the city still hasn’t recovered about 12% of private-sector jobs it lost during the pandemic — which is driven largely by the slow recovery in parts of Manhattan, according to the report.

Among other proposals, the panel wants to:

  • Change state and city laws — including zoning rules — to make it easier to convert office buildings to residential use, or other uses.
  • Establish a permanent program to allow restaurants to use sidewalk space for outdoor dining, rather than the temporary, COVID-era program that remains in place.
  • Reduce commute times and bolster mass transit, in part by increasing off-peak subway service and expanding the $5 CityTicket program — which allows one-way, off-peak travel within New York City on the Metro-North and LIRR commuter lines for $5 — to 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Make investments in childcare, including by expanding the Empire State Child Tax Credit to apply to children under four years of age.

The 40 major initiatives in the panel’s report are expected to form the basis of Hochul’s New York City-focused agenda in her State of the State address, in which she will lay out her priorities for 2023.

A likely key focus for Adams and Hochul will be housing, which each has placed a heavy emphasis in recent weeks.

In the absence of 421-a — the controversial tax incentive for developers that state lawmakers allowed to expire last year — the mayor’s plan for 500,000 housing units seeks to hasten development by streamlining the approval process as well as pressuring members of the City Council who have historically opposed high-density housing developments.

“Our local elected officials that are yelling, ‘build more housing, build more housing,’ but then in the next sentence, ‘Not on my block,’” Adams said.

”No, every block must be open to building housing in this city,” he added, drawing applause from the audience.

Partners on patrol

While the event’s focus was meant to be on the panel’s report, it also served another purpose: showcasing the relatively friendly relationship between Adams and Hochul.

The speaking portion of the breakfast kicked off with Steven Rubenstein, the civic group’s chair, noting that Adams and Hochul were chatting with each other backstage — which he said would have been nearly unthinkable during Cuomo and de Blasio’s tenures, when the two constantly feuded publicly and privately.

The Cuomo-de Blasio friction continued a decadeslong trend among governors and New York City mayors, who are often dependent on Albany for approval of pet projects and major initiatives because the state holds an enormous amount of sway over municipalities.

In their separate remarks, Hochul and Adams went to great lengths to highlight their camaraderie, with Hochul saying they’ve “worked so closely on many initiatives.”

“The mayor and I talk all the time, our teams talk all the time,” Hochul said. “We share ideas, and that is what’s making the difference, and you’ll feel that difference. And we don’t need to get in the news for having this kind of partnership and friendship, because that’s how we live. And I want to thank him for his leadership.”

Adams spoke about the city’s ongoing recovery and talked up Hochul as a worthy partner.

“I have a partner that’s on patrol with me, and we’re going to respond in a coordinated way,” he said.

Pouncing on the press

But at the same time, Adams remarked about fear over crime and how, without a comprehensive approach to public safety, it could hold the city back. The issue of crime was a major thorn in Hochul’s side during her electoral campaign this year, with Republican opponent Lee Zeldin repeatedly using the issue against her.

Adams has pushed for further changes to the state’s bail reform laws. Hochul successfully pushed through a change earlier this year that made it easier for judges to hold repeat offenders on bail, though Adams wants the state to go further.

“The prerequisite to our prosperity is public safety and justice, they go together,” Adams said on Wednesday. “We must be saved as a city, and you can’t be saved as a city if you continue to allow people who are violating our city to return to our streets.”

At one point, the mayor chided the press for what he viewed as negative coverage of the city’s recovery.

Speaking about his trips outside the city, he said: “They pull out a front-page story and point out the worst thing that happens in the city.”

“Don’t point out every scar we have,” he added.

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