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Hochul says she'll work with local government leaders after dropping proposal to allow 'tiny houses'

 NYS Gov Kathy Hochul speaks with the media on February 15, 2022
Mike Groll/Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul
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NYS Gov Kathy Hochul speaks with the media on February 15, 2022

Over the Presidents Day holiday, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul dropped from her budget a controversial proposal that would allow homeowners to bypass local zoning laws and build tiny houses on their property.

An accessory dwelling unit, or ADU, is a separate, smaller housing unit built on the same lot as a single-family home. It also includes backyard cottages, or apartments in attics, garages or basements.

Hochul proposed in her budget that homeowners be allowed to bypass local zoning laws, particularly in the suburbs, that forbid the units. Localities could impose safety and size regulations, as long as the rules did not prevent reasonable new construction.

The plan was backed by over 60 organizations, including many housing advocacy groups and the AARP. They said it could help with the affordable housing shortage and keep seniors out of nursing homes.

Assembly sponsor Harvey Epstein, speaking at a rally in mid-February, called the proposal a “win-win.”

“It benefits homeowners across New York, giving them extra income, allowing them to use space potentially for caretakers or other family members,” said Epstein, who added it also provides new affordable housing options for tenants.

“And it provides significant benefits for our state and local governments,” Epstein said.

But not all local government leaders saw it that way, with many against having to give up local control over zoning decisions.

The proposal also received criticism from Republican state lawmakers and some Democrats who represent suburban areas. They said it could change the character of neighborhoods.

One of Hochul’s primary opponents in the June contest for governor also opposes it. Long Island Rep. Tom Suozzi said it would “eviscerate local zoning control” and effectively end single-family housing in New York.

He spoke about it to reporters at the state’s Democratic Party convention earlier this month.

“This is a debacle,” Suozzi said. “Not only governmentally, I believe, but politically, it is wrongheaded.”

Suozzi’s home district is part of the New York City suburbs, where voters have often provided a swing vote in past elections.

Hochul quietly dropped the proposal one day after the convention, at the start of the Presidents Day holiday weekend. The governor, speaking earlier this week, said her decision had nothing to do with her political opponent. Hochul said she is responding to local government leaders who are against it.

Hochul said she “realized” after talking to members of the state’s Association of Towns and Conference of Mayors and Democratic state senators from Long Island that she needed to remove the proposal from her budget.

She said she may instead include funding for localities that chose to allow the ADUs. She said New York City Mayor Eric Adams has asked for the authority to create the program.

“The mayor wants this, we’ll support it,” said Hochul, who added she’s willing to have “conversations” with other local leaders who might want similar help.

Hochul said the ADU proposal is just one of many ideas she has proposed to help solve the housing crisis, which includes creating 100,000 new affordable housing units over the next five years.

Copyright 2022 WXXI News. To see more, visit WXXI News.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.