State leaders—including Kathy Hochul and one of her gubernatorial rivals, Tom Suozzi—are at odds over bills that would override local “exclusionary zoning” rules that prohibit homeowners from renting accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on their property.


Adi Talwar

A property inside the Riverdale Special Natural Area District.

New York lawmakers are heading for a showdown over single-unit zoning, a policy that has limited legal homes in the suburbs and, reform advocates say, artificially suppressed the state’s housing stock during a deep shortage.

At a legislative budget hearing Monday, state leaders and housing advocates went to bat for bills that would override local “exclusionary zoning” rules that prohibit homeowners from renting out basements, top floors, carriage houses or other potential residences known as accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on their property. They have a powerful ally: During her State of the State speech last month, Gov. Kathy Hochul backed a plan to allow ADUs in areas zoned for single-unit homes. Her accompanying capital plan would direct money to municipalities and nonprofits to help homeowners get their extra units up to code.

Single-unit zoning, commonly known as single-family zoning, applies to a vast suburban expanse outside New York City, as well as some parts of northeast Queens and Riverdale. New York stands alone among comparable states—including New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and California—in the way it empowers local governments to limit new housing production, according to the Furman Center.

That’s an issue that has long needed fixing, said New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas.

“We are not keeping pace with our housing production based on our population growth and our job growth so there’s a real demand for housing, especially downstate,” Visnauskas said at the hearing Monday. “You could argue that many people in our homeless shelters are there for purely economic reasons.”

A 2019 report from the Department of City Planning found that New York City added 770,000 new jobs between 2001 and 2018, but only 407,000 new units of housing, creating steep competition for minimal middle-income and low-income housing. A year later, a report by the Citizens Budget Commission found that housing production rates in suburban Westchester, Rockland and Nassau Counties are among the lowest in the country, in large part due to exclusionary zoning. That lack of available housing only drives costs, making homeownership impossible for the majority of downstate residents and forcing more than 40 percent of tenants to spend over a third of their income on rent.

ADUs alone would not address the affordability issue, wrote Brookings Institute fellow Noah Kazis ahead of the hearing Monday, but they would increase housing supply without upending the existing landscape.  

Thousands of ADUs already exist, supporters point out, but the units remain in the shadows and are not necessarily safe for renters—as was the case in illegal basement apartments where 11 people drowned in floodwaters brought by Hurricane Ida this past fall. A bill sponsored by Westchester State Sen. Pete Harckham and Manhattan Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, both Democrats, would order municipalities to adopt rules that allow for at least one ADU on owner-occupied lots, allowing property owners to create safe homes without penalty.

By legalizing the accommodations, “we can create extra income for homeowners, we can create safe and affordable housing for tenants, we can give seniors the ability to age in place,” said Casey Berkovitz, an official with the think tank The Century Foundation. “It’s such a win-win policy.”

But opponents of the ADU bill say the measure is hardly a win for local governments.

At the hearing Monday, Suffolk County Assemblymember Mike Fitzpatrick, a Republican, questioned “the rationale in, frankly, removing local control and local zoning,” from towns and cities.

Hochul’s opponent in the Democratic primary, U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, has also taken aim at the ADU legislation, calling it overreach from Albany. 

“Governor Hochul’s radical proposal would take away zoning control from municipal governments, erode local government authority, and end single-family housing across New York,” Suozzi, who represents parts of northeast Queens and Nassau and Suffolk Counties, tweeted Jan. 27. “Hochul’s plan to eliminate home rule is not what we need. I support affordable housing, building up around downtown train stations, and helping the homeless. I oppose eliminating home rule and ending single-family housing.”

That framing has rankled supporters of the ADU bill, who say the measure would not take away single family homes. Instead, the legislation would allow “single-unit” property owners the option of legally renting out extra spaces. The bill allows municipalities to set rules related to size, establish permitting fees and ban short-term rentals.

Bill supporters have sought to position the measure as a potential boon for homeowners, like seniors on a fixed income, who would be able to earn additional income legally. The legislation would direct DHCR to create a lending program for low- and middle-income homeowners to assist with financing and other costs to make their extra accommodations safe.

“ADUs expand housing choice, they’re inherently more affordable, and they improve access to neighborhoods for communities who have historically been excluded,” Citizens Housing Planning Council Senior Policy Analyst Kate Leitch told lawmakers.*

Nevertheless, property owners will need financial assistance to bring their units up to code. Hochul’s proposed housing capital budget earmarked $85 million to subsidize those conversions, though it didn’t include specific details on how that money will be distributed.

The ADU bill is a less drastic measure than another piece of legislation introduced by State Sen. Brad Hoylman. Hoylman’s bill would prevent municipalities from blocking four-unit residential construction—or six-unit buildings near transit stations—requiring off-street parking or establishing minimum lot sizes greater than 1,200 square feet. Legalizing ADUs statewide could be seen as a compromise by comparison. 

The measure is just one component of a plan to build more housing. Hochul described her focus on transit-oriented construction and lifting density caps in New York City in her January speech and accompanying policy book. She has also backed a modest change to the controversial 421-a tax abatement for residential developers.

The zoning reform push is a matter of equity, supporters say, because racism has defined single-unit zoning since the first suburban lots were carved up for white World War II veterans. 

Exclusionary zoning has fueled deep segregation, a function of rules that prevented people of color, especially Black Americans, from buying homes in Levittown, the original Long Island suburb constructed in 1947. Other towns adopted similar racist convenants, a precursor to the steering and less explicit housing discrimination still in effect across Long Island and elsewhere in the state. 

Harkham said Monday that opposition to zoning reform often sounds like “a lot of dog-whistles” even as critics tend to focus on the potential burden to local infrastructure. 

“Everyone becomes a traffic expert, and a wetlands expert and steep slope expert,” he said. 

Ex-President Donald Trump infamously sounded his own racist, classist dog whistle in 2020, when he warned that eliminating single-unit zoning and building low-income housing would “bring who knows into your suburbs, so your communities will be unsafe and your housing values will go down.” 

Though the ADU bill would increase affordable housing, the units are still subject to discriminatory housing practices, said Elaine Gross, president of the Long Island-based fair housing and civil rights group ERASE Racism. Racist exclusion could continue without affordability considerations or penalties for discrimination, she said.

Gross urged lawmakers to adopt legislation that forces ADU owners to publicly advertise their residences, abide by fair housing laws and cap rents at below market rates if they receive state financing or subsidies. Those provisions are each included in the current bill. 

“Sometimes there are people on Long Island with blinders who think we don’t have a problem out here, but we do,” she said. 

*Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story mistakenly attributed another speaker’s quote to Leitch. This line has been updated with the correct quote. City Limits regrets the error.

21 thoughts on “Hochul, Lawmakers Look to Override NY’s Exclusionary Zoning Amid Housing Crunch

  1. This proposal might be reasonable if applied to areas that have very low density (at least one acre or more). In higher density single family districts (areas with 5 d.u.’s per acre or more) it would be totally inappropriate. The infrastructure in these higher density areas would be overloaded – substantially increased street parking on relatively narrow streets, over loading of sewer capacity and wastewater treatment capacity, exhausting of the underground water aquifer, etc.

    There are logical places in the suburbs where density increases would be appropriate. As NYC does with much of its zoning, higher density and lower parking requirements should be encouraged (if not required) near mass transit facilities (i.e. Long Island Railroad stations). A good example of a highly desirable area with substantially higher density is the Great Neck Station area. There is little reason why an area around the Hicksville station (one of the most used stations on the island) shouldn’t have greater density. Having single or two-family homes (and even vacant lots) within a block of this station is ludicrous.


    As a planner and fair housing and zoning attorney advocating for integrated and affordable housing, and as author of “Ending American Apartheid: How Cities Achieve and Maintain Racial Diveristy,” I can attest that the legislation proposed in New York won’t achieve much at all because it fails to address the underlying causes of housing segregation and unaffordability. Typical of the misdirection of the advocates quoted is the assertion that Blacks couldn’t move to Levittown due to the cost of housing. As Richard Rothstein revealed in his award-winning tome “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America,” Blacks couldn’t move to Levittown because the federal financing the developer got prohibited selling unit to Blacks, pure and simple. So Black households that could afford to buy there (and there were plenty that could) simply were not allowed to buy all those $7,000 single family detached houses there — hence an all-white community.

    Having written about ways to curtail exclusionary zoning for the American Planning Association and the Amerian Bar Association’s Advisory Commission on Housing and Urban Growth, and having conducted some of the most highly-regarded Analyses of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice, I’ve got to report that these bills are typical government misdirection that will solve nothing. None of the jurisdictions that have allowed four and six unit buildings in otherwise single family zones, have seen an increase in housing affordable to lesser income households. The units are still too expensive for them (much like New York City’s rent control hasn’t kept rents low enough for lower-income households). ADUs have done little to provide housing affordable to households with modest and very limited incomes — and have been abused in college towns to create mini-dormitories with rents higher than the long-term town residents can afford, but the wealthy college students can.

    Affordable racially and economically integrated housing has been and can be successfully and cost-effectively created and preserved with a combination these three practices:
    (1) Strong mandatory inclusionary zoning ordinances without loopholes like low in lieu fees (paltry $25,000 to $120,000) and instead fees-in-lieu that equal the full cost of building a dwelling unit (we’re talking roughly $350,000 these days);
    (2) Conversion of multifamly rentals to limited-equity cooperatives, and of single-family rentals to mutual housing associations; and
    (3) Regional housing centers like the Oak Park Regional Housing Center (Illinois) that expand housing choices beyond the now “traditional” segregative ones where whites look for housing only in overwhelmingly white neighborhoods and Blacks look only in integrated and overwhelmingly Black neighborhoods. Instead these housing centers facilitate whites looking at housing in integrated neighborhoods, not just all-white ones, and Blacks looking in overwhelmingly white neighborhoods, not just integrated and all-Black ones. If that change doesn’t happen, then racial segregation continues unabated.

    I really am sick and tired of politicians and academics who twist history and facts to fit political philosophies without addressing the causes of the problem they seek to solve. And those organizations should be ashamed of themselves for misdirecting elected officials away from genuine solutions and toward bandaids that do not work. If this nation fails to change its approach to housing, de facto segregation will continue to thrive.

    • You miss the point that increasing supply eventually helps reduce costs – AND ADU’s are just the beginning of the process of then adding subsidies for those needing them to build out and operate an affordable ADU rental and Junior ADU. Eventually, when communities realize ADU’s are really a non-issue they will then be more receptive to duplex’s and more again many that could be subsidized both for lower-income homeowners to create and renters to rent

      • ‘…adding subsidies for those needing them to build out and operate an affordable ADU rental and Junior ADU…’

        And just where is this subsidy money going to magically appear from? The sucker NYS taxpayers of course!

      • Increasing supply does not reduce costs. Look at Long Island City. Over 20,000 apartments were constructed in the past 15 years. No one is going house hunting in LIC looking for affordability. They’re going to LIC for expensive high amenity units. Increasing supply without intentional inclusionary practices keeps old systems in place.

        • Those LIC buildings were designed to be high-end luxury rentals and not ‘affordable housing’. Land and labor are expensive all over NYC so the days of constructing apartment buildings for the middle-class are long gone.

      • So, we need to not only give up our zoning rights, but have higher taxes so others can retrofit their homes to create additional housing? That makes sense to you? The market gets to decide housing costs. something like 5 million people manage to live on Long Island. Most are not wealthy, but they still manage to pay their rent or mortgage. Let supply and demand decide, not the government.

  3. If zoning changes are made to increase housing this will create a dangerous, and health hazard to everyone living in legal apartment. You have building dept., and fire dept. codes to meet. Most basements are just cellars, due to the windows size, and location. They all need a secondary means of fire egress. They will need measures to prevent flooding, during a heavy rainfall. Keep in mind last year’s flooding that cause people to drown that were living in illegal basement apartments. If there is a shortage of apartments, NYC, or NYS should build more affordable housing buildings.

  4. With taxes going sky high without any warning to homeowners it’s about time people on a fixed income can have some help with their tax bills! In one year my school tax bill has gone up 6000 dollars!! No one stops local governments and schools from increasing taxes when they feel like it but the citizens who have to pay these bills have no say!

  5. All the talk about this bill is revolving around the suburbs so I’m unclear if the bill will override NYC’s zoning regulations too. As an FYI note that within NYC 1-family-only zoned areas (zones R1 and R2) account for a tiny 2.97% of all residential units. And of those 91.98% are in low density Queens and Staten Island neighborhoods far from subways.

    And 1-family homes in those R1 and R2 areas accounts for an even tinier 2.08% of all residential units. And of those 92.34% are also in low density Queens and Staten Island neighborhoods far from subways.

    At least in NYC 1-family zoning is not an issue.

    NYC 1-family homes stats – –

  6. The only bright side to Hochul’s bill is it will help defeat her in November. This bill will not lead to homeowners making extra money. It will lead to companies, buying homes and then packing them with renters. The argument that we have so many homeless is due to the housing shortage is a joke. Go look at the majority of the homeless on NY City’s streets. They are drug addicts and mentally unstable. If Hochul wants to help them she should open facilities where they can receive care. All she is attempting to do with this bill is further her socialist agenda by destroying the middle class.

    NY State lost 350,000 people in the last year. That certainly freed up space, how about addressing the issues that are forcing people to flee first?

  7. Bet on it: Developers will find a way to abuse ADU regs so that the neighborhoods wind up becoming more exclusionary and unaffordable. There is nearly $1 billion in unpaid DOB/ECB violations in NYC, plus an 8 year “write off” clause in City Charter. So, development and zoning violations take place with impunity…including involving accidents.

  8. I understand that somewhere in Queens is a LEGAL house. DOB just fined a homeowner 230k for setting up a 10-room SRO.
    Hochul should amend the MDL to allow for Class B SRO units, and find a way to get an ADA partial waiver to build more affordable units. A minimum size “Affordable unit” in Queens will cost you $800k to build- 500k with an all-illegal crew.

  9. Hmmmm, so let’s see; If this bill becomes a reality will it also be enforced in places like, let’s say, Chappaqua (Bill & Hillary’s place of residence), The Hamptons, Sag Harbor, Plandome, Muttontown, Old Brookville, Centre Island, Lloyd Harbor, etc….? Or perhaps the richest sections of Westchester & Putnam Counties?
    If this goes into effect then it’s guaranteed that corporations such as Fairfield will start gobbling up homes left & right and turn them into multi-family dwellings, w/o any regard for the actual welfare of the communities that they’re doing this to. Also, if the state is going to start granting subsidies to people for the purpose of bringing their respective homes up to code so they can start renting out space, well, where will this money come from? Oh, that’s right, THE TAXPAYER!!
    Between this latest idea, plus the consideration of acting upon Bill #A416 (COVID-19 mandatory quarantine in a govt. approved detention center), the continuation of the No Cash Bail law (and the refusal to even consider eliminating or even amending it), etc., it only goes to show that this Governor is completely out of control & drunk with her newly acquired power. Wasn’t Kathy Hochul supposed to be much more of a centrist Democrat & bring some balance to NYS govt.? She certainly was in her earlier political career, that’s for sure (check out her past record). Was it all a sham in order to climb the political ranks? Apparently so; I really was hopeful when she came in, but boy did she prove me wrong in a hurry!

  10. Infrastructure o Long Island is stressed. With adults living at home with their parent, additional families in my neighborhood would have me parking 1/2 mile away when I work late.

    Long Island is also in a crisis of how to handle wastewater with the current population. Who is looking at all of the impacts to life and services?

  11. What I haven’t heard discussed very often as a contributing factor to high NYC housing costs is landmarked zoning particularly in brownstone neighborhoods. While I understand that brownstones are historical and preserve a part of the past, just how much should we preserve?

    Harvard economist Ed Glaeser has written that excess preservation makes neighborhoods feel like museums. Just look how much of northern Brooklyn contains brownstones. You’ve got Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn Heights.

    I’m okay with liberalizing zoning near LIRR train stations for residents without cars or those who would rather do less driving. It makes practical sense to allow greater density.

    Let zoning regulations be subject to local government and not Albany politicians.

    • Our streets are packed with parked cars every evening because people can’t fit all their cars in the driveway. Adding tenants to the single family homes will make the neighborhood impossible to find a parking space.
      and blocked driveways. Narrow streets in these areas with cars parked opposite driveways make it impossible to back out. This becomes worse when the snow is plowed. Many people in multiple family neighborhoods like 2 family and basement apartments don’t declare the additional income. It’s a cash arrangement
      Where does that leave us ? Bad proposal. The governor should do something about the “Consumer Protection” Take on Con Ed.

  12. Local municipalities would need to provide a vigorous enforcement mechanism to insure that attic and basement apartments would be up to code.

    It would require homeowners to update electrical wiring, flood proof basements, and maintain a cap on the number of people occupying the space. In addition to the increased demand on the infrastructure, there would be a need to build more schools in a given district to accommodate more children.

    Without these safeguards, the plan will cause more problems than solutions.

  13. Hochul is simply another politic who has sold out her constituents for the kickback from developers. This legislative is already impacting predominately stable black and brown single residential areas with an influx of greedy developers, who are flooding once stable communities with now unmanageable residents . We won’t forget you in November Hochul.
    We will make sure that you are not reelected!

  14. Great idea, Gov. Hochul: but you might want to first legislate a statute giving licensed NYS Design Professionals full & final authority over crazy and incompetent code officials…save us all some time and money….be a hero! You have no idea of the havoc being caused out here by small town code officials who are permitted to discount stamped and sealed plans because someone told them they know how to interpret and apply Uniform Codes better than licensed architects and engineers….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.