Rep. Lawler holds special Hudson Valley hearing on housing crisis

February 23, 2024

By Ben Nandy

Video available here

For the first time in several years, a congressional hearing was held in Rockland County to tackle a common hardship among New Yorkers: the housing crisis.

Rep. Mike Lawler and two colleagues from the U.S. House Financial Services committee convened researchers, Orangetown Supervisor Teresa Kenny and housing attorney Leah Goodridge Thursday morning in the county’s legislative chambers.

Lawler and some witnesses agreed that some of the best ways to ease the housing crunch long-term include tax relief for developers to build more housing and creative zoning changes to allow additional dwellings to be built onto homes and businesses.

One zoning change Lawler floated was transit oriented districts, which allow for more homes and businesses near bus and train stations.

“We actually, under the prior supervisor, looked at the potential of a TOD in Pearl River, where I live, in part to help beautify the downtown district and incentivize property owners to reface the buildings,” said Lawler. “Potentially they could add on apartments on top of their existing commercial property.”

Depending on the municipality, overhauling a zoning code, approving new projects and then waiting for them to be built could be a yearslong process.

Witness Leah Goodridge, a housing attorney with nonprofit Mobilization for Justice, told the lawmakers that while long-term strategies are worked out, local officials must also find ways to keep renters from being priced out of their homes. She mentioned a client who she says would have been saved by rent stabilization.

Rent stabilization is a policy adopted in New York City and Newburgh that allows a city-sponsored board to limit yearly rent increases.

“I talked about my client, ‘Ms. P’ and the fact that she’s lived in a private, unregulated apartment, and now she’s facing eviction after living there for seven years,” Goodridge said in an interview after the hearing.

Daniel Eudene, of Catholic Charities of Rockland County, agreed there must be stopgaps, such as rent stabilization in certain communities, to prevent displacement in a tight housing market.

“The dollar amounts of people’s rents have gone through the roof,” Eudene said in a Zoom interview Thursday afternoon.

Eudene said he has worked with some lower-income families who have seen their rents increase from about $2,000 a month in 2019 to $4,000 a month in 2024.

“I don’t know what the community’s temperament might be for some level of rent controls, but to me, it’s an issue because I see it right in front of me,” he said.

Lawler said afterward that rent stabilization may have a place in some communities, should their leaders approve it, but also that the state and federal governments must give those communities freedom to attack the housing crisis how they see fit.

Lawler said that blanket government policies, laws and programs may derail some municipalities’ attempts to shape their communities.

Lawler made special mention of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s 2023 proposal to compel municipalities to rezone areas near transit hubs and require them to increase housing stock by 3% within three years.

The proposal, called the Housing Compact, did not make it into the governor’s budget last year and did not gain significant support as standalone legislation.

The Housing Compact would have included a $250 million fund to improve infrastructure as housing increased.

Lawler said the plan did not account enough for the overhauls to drainage, water, bridge and road systems that would be necessary to accommodate such an increase in housing stock.

“When you look at what the governor proposed just in the last two years, there’s a reason there was broad bipartisan opposition to it,” Lawler said. “It’s not because people don’t realize the need for housing. They do. It is because there was no plan to actually address the real infrastructure needs.”