Governor Pataki’s August 20 veto of $235 million in budget line items for the coming year, out of a $101 billion package, was a major setback for a bipartisan effort in the state Senate and Assembly to increase New York State’s spending on affordable housing development. The governor also cut by nearly half the funds annually awarded to a select group of community development corporations.
The budget bill passed by the State Senate August 12 included a total $57 million in new spending for four state housing programs. Among other items, the Assembly had approved $20 million for the Low Income Housing Trust Fund, which supplies loans at 1 percent interest for apartment buildings housing low-income renters, as well as $7.5 million for Homes for Working Families, which helps builders leverage bond financing for apartments. The Senate had inserted $20 million for the Affordable Housing Corporation, which helps fund the construction of homes for sale to moderate-income buyers, as well as $2 million for housing for the elderly.
The Assembly dollars would likely be most heavily used in New York City, while the Senate programs are more useful to developers elsewhere in the state.
In an effort led by Assembly Housing Committee chair Vito Lopez of Brooklyn, the legislature sought to have the spending paid for out of mortgage recording taxes collected by the State of New York Mortgage Agency, or SONYMA. Previously that money has been put into the state’s general budget.
Lobbyists for the affordable housing industry say they’re working on getting the Senate to override the governor’s veto. “If the legislature undertakes overrides, I’m confident this will be one of them,” said Don Halperin, lobbyist for the New York State Association for Affordable Housing, a trade group of developers. “Affordable housing is a growing concern in areas that Senate Republicans represent, such as Long Island and the mid-Hudson valley.”
Meanwhile, members of the Neighborhood Preservation Coalition are mobilizing to restore nearly $5 million in grants to 162 nonprofit housing groups—nearly half the total they receive. The governor had vetoed that spending last year, too, but the funds were restored when the legislature rejected Pataki’s entire budget. “We’re asking people to call local senators, and asking them to ask [Majority Leader Joseph] Bruno to call the Senate back into session to vote for overrides,” said Joe Agostine, executive director of the coalition.
They may have to wait a long time—word in the capital is that Bruno is asking the Senate not to take action until after Election Day, if at all. There’s also the state’s multibillion-dollar debt to consider. In a press release, the governor characterized the cuts as essential to the health of New York State: “Allowing this budget to take effect unchanged would represent a blow to New York’s finances.” The measure passed by the legislature, the governor asserted, would leave a $669 million gap in this year’s budget alone.