“It is time Albany meets the urgency of this moment and comes together with a real plan that will meet and sustain the housing needs of all New Yorkers, across every income level, and throughout every corner of our city and state.”

Mike Groll, Don Pollard, Darren McGee/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

Gov. Kathy Hochul and lawmakers gathered for the annual State of the State address at the start of the 2024 session in Albany.

In a moment of extreme and extended crisis, where hundreds of thousands of New York City residents struggle to pay their rent, find an affordable place to live or sometimes just keep their families from falling into homelessness, access to affordable housing is not just a right all New Yorkers should enjoy. It is also a responsibility that those in New York State government must take on.

It is time Albany meets the urgency of this moment and comes together with a real plan that will meet and sustain the housing needs of all New Yorkers, across every income level, and throughout every corner of our city and state. Years of population growth colliding with insufficient housing supply has led to an explosion in the affordability crisis.

Whether it’s housing insecurity due to limited availability, the threat of eviction because of inability to pay rent, or having to commute unreasonably long hours to your job because there is no affordable housing in neighborhoods near where you work, we have seen our housing crisis threaten the stability of New York families, from those who’ve been here for generations to those in their first. 

The problem we face is clear. More than 150,000 New Yorkers are without a home and an additional 175,000 are at risk of eviction. That doesn’t even capture the neighborhoods full of working families that are struggling to find affordable housing because the city needs to build hundreds of thousands of new housing units to meet the projected half a million unit shortfall.

The people who are experiencing homelessness, living in fear of eviction or constantly struggling with finding affordable housing are more than just statistics. In fact, the housing shortage affects everyone. From moms and dads, to children and seniors, to newly arrived immigrants and longtime residents alike, we’ve seen people’s lives turned upside down because rents keep going up and available housing remains way down.

And we must also recognize that while this crisis affects everyone, many of our most vulnerable New Yorkers—like people of color, new immigrants, and single parents—face the greatest challenges because they often live in neighborhoods with the most acute housing shortage.

It’s through their experience that we can most clearly see the urgent need for Albany to take immediate and comprehensive action by coming to an agreement on a new housing plan in this year’s budget. And it must be one that meets the distinct needs of our diverse communities and families. We believe that the governor and legislators can find the solution to our housing crisis by taking a middle ground approach.

What exactly does that mean? It’s really three simple principles: First, is massively increasing supply with smart tax incentives coupled with strong obligations to build affordable units that can meet the needs of various income levels. Here, government can’t do it alone, we need the private sector fully invested to build the accessible and affordable housing New York needs. Couple that with programs to make better use of unused commercial space that can be converted into residential housing stock, and we can finally start to build enough supply to meet the urgent demand.

Second, we have to make it easier to afford rent. Part of that solution will come from just increasing supply to bring down demand, and lower rents will naturally follow. But it also means establishing and investing in initiative like a Housing Access Voucher Program (HAVP) to provide immediate rental assistance and avoid homelessness. Combined with programs that provide a pathway to homeownership and investing more in the transition from our overburdened shelter system to permanent housing, we can begin to bring down the costs of housing and increase housing stability for New York families regardless of immigration status.

Lastly, strong tenant protections are an absolutely essential piece of the housing puzzle. We must provide a right to counsel that will increase access to legal representation—especially for our most vulnerable low income and immigrant community members—and help guard against unwarranted evictions, the price gouging of rent, and abusive conditions. Residents need to feel feel safe in their homes and stable in their ability to remain in them—which isn’t possible until we secure the right to legal representation, from housing to immigration court, for all.

We also must include fair wages and labor standards in any housing policy passed by Albany. Good jobs go hand-in-hand with affordable housing and it’s our job to ensure no one works for less than a livable wage either in the construction or servicing of our housing developments.

Whether you’re among the thousands of new arrivals who have settled in New York or one of the many long-time residents who have and continue to struggle because of the long-standing affordability and housing availability crisis, we believe all will benefit from Albany finally coming to an agreement on a plan that brings affordable, stable and sustainable housing.

For all New Yorkers, regardless of income bracket or immigration status, we hope this is the year Albany can finally get the job done.

Manny Pastreich is the president of 32BJ SEIU. Murad Awawdeh is the president & CEO of the N.Y. Immigration Coalition.