The (potentially permanent) return of to-go cocktails and a truncated resurrection of the Regional Plan Association’s Triboro passenger rail line emerged as the two most attention-grabbing elements from New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s inaugural State of the State address earlier this week. However, the governor’s policy agenda pertaining to green construction and housing as outlined in Part VI-B of the 200-plus-page 2022 State of the State Book also deserves closer inspection as the global community continues along a path to combat climate change that must be enacted with utmost urgency.
Most notably, Hochul announced plans for 1 million electrified homes and an additional 1 million electrification-ready homes by 2030 and proposed legislation to ensure that all new construction across the Empire State is zero-emissions within the next five years. If approved by the state legislature, the measure would mark the first statewide ban on gas hookups for new buildings in the nation. As noted in a press release detailing Hochul’s “unprecedented commitment” to aggressively reining in the climate-related impact of the built environment, buildings account for more than a third of New York’s overall emissions.
On a more localized scale, officials in Ithaca, a progressive college town in New York’s Finger Lakes region, recently approved a first-in-the-nation decarbonization plan that aims to electrify all 6,000 homes and buildings within city limits by 2030 as part of a move away from the use of fossil fuel-based heating sources and appliances. In December, New York City Council approved a ban on natural gas connections to new buildings that will take effect for buildings shorter than seven stories beginning on January 1, 2024. New York State is the sixth-largest consumer of natural gas and fifth-largest consumer of petroleum in the United States according to a 2019 survey by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
“To make real progress on climate change, it’s time to tackle major sources of pollution head-on, ensure greener housing is available to all New Yorkers, and pave the way toward a more sustainable future,” said Governor Hochul in a statement. “This transformative investment in green infrastructure will cement New York’s status at the forefront of climate action and ensure equity in our transition to a cleaner, greener state.”
Here’s a breakdown of the myriad policy and legislative actions, as detailed by the Governor’s Office, that are on tap to help New York successfully reach this goal:
- An upgrading of New York appliance efficiency standards;
- The mandating of energy benchmarking for large buildings;
- Bringing together the finance, mortgage, and banking industries to “help align private capital with this housing sustainability goal;”
- Providing the training programs needed to ensure a statewide workforce that is able to deliver the services related to a shift away from fossil fuel-reliant homes;
- The introduction of legislation that will “level the playing field for clean energy alternatives and end the obligation to serve customers with natural gas that currently exists in state law, tailored to maintain affordability for New York’s most vulnerable customers;”
- Directing the New York State Energy and Development Authority (NYSERDA), Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), Department of Public Service (DPS), and Department of State (DOS) to deliver “an executable plan to achieve this goal this year,” including a funding proposal and “strategies to leverage private capital;”
- Increasing the current rate of electrification of approximately 20,000 homes annually more than tenfold by the end of the decade;
- Establishing a dedicated “green electrification fund” and electrifying low-income homes through the HCR’s $25 billion, five-year housing capital plan;
- And, last not but least, putting forth a “nation-leading” legislative proposal that mandates all new construction projects across the state have zero on-site greenhouse gas emissions by no later than 2027.
In addition to greening New York’s homes, Hochul also revealed a slew of proposed legislative actions that aim to curtail the state’s affordable housing crisis. These separate pieces of legislation would, respectively, allow for accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in single-family neighborhoods, foster transit-oriented development projects, and ease current restrictions on the conversion of hotels and offices into housing.
Hochul will also propose amending the state law limiting the maximum density of residential floor area ratio to 12.0 in New York City, returning it over to local authority. This, as detailed by the Governor’s Office, will “provide municipal leaders with the autonomy to allow for denser residential development where appropriate.”
Overall, Hochul’s five-year, $25 billion affordable housing plan would create and preserve 100,000 affordable housing units, a figure that includes 10,000 apartment units that provide support services to New York’s most vulnerable populations. An additional 50,000 affordable homes would be electrified as part of the aforementioned plan to electrify and make electrification-ready 2 million homes across the state. A separate section of Hochul’s State of the State outlines proposed actions that aim to end the state’s homelessness crisis and rampant housing inequities.
“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,” said Hochul. “These bold steps are a major step forward in transforming our housing market, protecting affordability and increasing the housing supply.”
As Gothamist has pointed out, there was one crucial housing issue not mentioned in Hochul’s address: an expansion of the state’s eviction moratorium, which is set to expire on Jan. 15. If it does expire, hundreds of thousands of New York renters financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic could potentially be removed from their homes. A spokesperson for Hochul relayed to Gothamist that the governor is still in active negotiations with the state legislature regarding the moratorium.
Following Hochul’s State of the State address, the New York State chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIANYS) applauded the Governor’s sweeping plan to “safeguard public health, revive the economy, and invest in our state’s future.”
“Communication and collaboration with federal, State, and municipal leadership will be essential in the process to prioritize infrastructure needs and position New York to compete for crucial funding allocated by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” remarked AIANYS president-elect Pasquale Marchese in a statement. “From Buffalo to Long Island, New York possesses a wealth of architects and other design professionals who are in-tune with the infrastructure needs of their communities. Schools, hospitals, housing, transportation hubs, and other facilities serving a public need must be prioritized in the coming years to remain competitive and to protect the health, safety, and welfare of all New Yorkers.”