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Long Island is dubious of Hochul’s plan for more housing using accessory apartments

Governor Kathy Hochul presents a COVID-19 update in New York.
Kevin P. Coughlin
Office of Governor Kathy Hochul
New York Governor Kathy Hochul

A bipartisan group of Long Island elected officials rallied in Hauppauge on Thursday, Feb. 10, against Governor Kathy Hochul’s proposal to pressure local governments to approve more accessory apartments — converted garages, basements and attics. She hopes that additional housing units would alleviate the affordable housing crisis.

"In the wake of the pandemic, it's crucial that we tackle the housing crisis and make New York a more affordable place for all," Hochul said during her State of the State in January. "These bold steps are a major step forward in transforming our housing market, protecting affordability and increasing the housing supply."

Over 800,000 households in New York are facing housing insecurity. Rent increases, the cost of living, the imbalance between supply and demand combined with the COVID-19 pandemic have intensified the affordable housing crisis on Long Island and in New York City.

Hochul proposed a five-year $25 billion plan requiring local governments to adjust their zoning laws to allow accessory apartments. The intent is to provide greater cost-effective housing for young people, an additional source of income for homeowners, and the opportunity for seniors on fixed-income to stay in their family homes.

“This is a radical plan by the governor to take away local zoning from where it belongs — in the hands of the local officials,” Suffolk County Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey said during Thursday’s rally.

“The governor’s proposal will destroy all that within just a few years by turning Suffolk County into the seventh borough of New York City.”

More than two dozen Democrats and Republicans joined McCaffrey in rejecting the proposal from across Long Island. Several local towns and Nassau County, mostly led by Republicans, have held other rallies against Hochul’s proposal this month.

“Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman and his reactionary ilk are hell bent on dragging Long Island back to the 1950s,” Lisa Tyson, director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition, said in a statement. “When they laughingly claim accessory dwelling units will destroy the Long Island suburbs, or when they claim this is part of Hochul’s ‘urbanization’ agenda, we know what they’re really saying. Their racist dog whistles can be heard across the region. The simple fact is: they want to keep Long Island wealthy and white at the expense of everyone else.”

Hochul’s proposal has also become a flashpoint for gubernatorial candidates from Long Island this November.

U.S. Reps. Tom Suozzi (D-NY) and Lee Zeldin (R-NY), who are both running for governor, made similar comments in January, defending the importance of local government.

Brookhaven Town Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich, the lone Democrat on the town board, said last week that though Hochul’s plan to address the affordable housing crisis was “well-intentioned,” the power should remain at the municipal level.

“[It’s a] direct threat to local control. This is the state telling local governments ‘you will allow this, you have no choice,’ we reject that,” Republican State Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick of Smithtown said in a statement.

Outside of concerns of home rule, Fitzpatrick also called Hochul’s plan a “direct threat to the suburban quality of life.”

“Rather than solve those problems in the city, they want to exploit those problems out to the suburbs,” Fitzpatrick said.

Republican state Senator Anthony Palumbo said alongside Kornreich in Brookhaven that he is worried that more accessory apartments will lead to overcrowding of roads and wastewater systems on Long Island.

“Seventy-five percent of our nitrogen problem on the island is a result of septic systems,” Palumbo said. “So now we have many more people densely populated areas, will exacerbate that problem exponentially.”

Bruce Sander, the president of Stony Brook Concerned Homeowners, is concerned for those who would be living in the converted apartments.

“We have seen basement apartments and illegal occupants catch fire create unsafe environments throughout the community,” Sander said. “What is being proposed could lead to the destruction of the suburbs… We are not an inner-city, we're a suburb,” Sander said.

The legalization of accessory apartments in New York isn’t unprecedented — Connecticut became the eighth state to encourage greater legalization of accessory apartments in 2021.

Samantha is a former news intern with WSHU Public Radio.