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BLOG | Presidential Perspectives Coming Together to “Change What Needs to Be Changed” Is Essential in Helping to Move Our Region Forward

By Lisa DeRosa, President, Building and Realty Institute of Westchester and the Mid-Hudson Region (BRI)

(WHITE PLAINS) You cannot change what you will not confront.

The companies and organizations that make up the BRI cover a broad and diverse spectrum of real estate in Westchester County and the Hudson Valley, but ultimately housing is our connective tissue. What we’re seeing in the Hudson Valley housing market ought to give every decision-maker pause.

On the one hand, no one can deny that the Greater New York region is in the throes of a major housing shortage. The 2019 Westchester County Housing Needs Assessment found that we needed 11,703 new units of housing just to keep pace with what was then present-day demand.

In the years that followed, we saw a further explosion in already-high housing prices during the COVID-19 pandemic and a buyer’s frenzy, which has led to one of the tightest inventories in available homes and apartments that anyone can remember. New York job growth over this time has been prodigious, but our housing production has been anemic. Or, as Gov. Hochul has taken to saying, “The jobs are here, but the homes are not.”

Make no mistake, some communities in the Metro-North Railroad region have begun to make progress in building the housing we need. But they are the exceptions rather than the rule. It is still too easy for municipalities to let inertia set in, to put off progress on updating their zoning or addressing a lack of housing being felt by their seniors, millennials, professionals, and working families. It’s too easy to put off a decision on an application to build housing until another SEQR hoop has been jumped through, or until another public hearing has been scheduled, or to throw a bone to the loud but unrepresentative NIMBY (“Not In My Back Yard”) members of the community by slamming the breaks on any new development, or to layer on costs with new property taxes.

And, it’s simply too easy for local leaders to bemoan the lack of housing options – especially affordable housing – while doing nothing to remove the barriers to building in their own hometowns.

Familiar Problems

On the other hand, we’re beginning to see the same problems with existing housing, particularly the growing number of affordable apartments in need of repair, preservation, and reinvestment. Many of those housing units are rent-stabilized and, as such, are subject to new and much more stringent restrictions on the financing of Individual Apartment Improvements and Major Capital Improvements under the 2019 Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act (“HSTPA”).

Before that law was passed, many of us expressed concerns that gutting the financing for these programs removed major incentives to reinvest, to repair severely damaged apartments, to modernize and improve apartments for rent-stabilized tenants at comparable levels to market rate apartments, and to make the major improvements in roofs, boilers, plumbing, elevators, electrical work, and brick and façade repair that would benefit all residents of the building. That clearly is happening as we speak – the data on repairs and maintenance from the state’s cost reports shows it. In the worst cases, some owners are considering taking units off the market entirely until they can figure out how to pay for the repairs that are needed.

In a housing shortage, the worst thing we can do is set up a situation whereby some affordable homes have to come off the market without any new homes to replace them! But rather than keeping the reforms that are working while revisiting those that are leading to disinvestment, too many are doubling down. Whether it is the denial of due process that is the main policy of the “Good Cause Eviction” or “Lease-for-Life” bill, a broken Rent Guidelines Board system which was meant to balance the rising costs of operating buildings with affordable rents for tenants but has instead teetered into years of rent increases well below the cost of inflation, or the kneejerk preference to create broad eviction moratoria (whether tenants can afford their rent or not) instead of funding better-targeted financial support for the most at-risk tenants like the Housing Voucher Access Program, too many are willing to paint property owners as cartoon villains who deserve even worse than what we get, and too few are willing to look at the basic, Econ 101 problems of supply and demand that are fueling our shortage.

At the BRI, we believe there’s a better solution to our housing shortage than “It’s someone else’s responsibility.” We believe New York can come together to change what needs to be changed to move our region forward.

We know because we’ve lived it. We’ve done it before.

My father, John DeRosa, was not only a past president of the BRI, but his company built the apartment buildings that we still own and manage today. For decades, those property owners who provided and managed the buildings so many neighbors called home, as well as those who built critical new housing for the generations of new families who put their roots down in our communities, were respected as critical pieces of our local economy and community.

Both local leaders and our neighbors recognized that we provided safe and stable housing, and good-paying local jobs. They appreciated that we contributed to the economy and, as good citizens and good neighbors, gave back to our local community. The growth of our businesses helped us afford to send our kids to college, to take care of our families, and to reach for our piece of the American Dream.

We need to return to a balanced approach to governance. We will only benefit by leaving behind the harsh “us vs. them” political point-scoring of the past few years for a recognition that we are all in this together. If we are serious about solving our many challenges, then everyone ought to be respected and at the table. It’s the only way to tackle the economic imperatives of confronting our housing shortage, avoiding layering on costs that will make more of our housing stock unaffordable to seniors, millennials, and middle-income families, and restoring our aging housing stock to keep it safe, dignified, and able to meet the needs of our energy future.

We hope you will review our soon-to-be released Legislative Agenda and join with us to confront the problems we face and change what has held back our progress. Together we can build the housing we need and preserve what affordable to rent and affordable to own housing we can.

This article was featured in the Feb/Mar ’23 issue of IMPACT. View it here

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