New York State Legislature Debates Single-Family Zoning

To boost the state's housing supply, some New York lawmakers want to eliminate local control over single-family zoning.

1 minute read

February 14, 2022, 11:59 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

An aerial view of New Jersey suburbs, with Manhattan and New York City in the distant background.

James Kirkikis / Shutterstock

Single-family zoning once again takes center stage as New York State lawmakers dispute the merits of proposed bills that would preempt local zoning codes, allowing homeowners to rent out secondary units such as basements, top floors, and other accessory dwelling unit (ADU) types. As David Brand reports, housing advocates argue that single-family zoning—and the state laws that allow local jurisdictions to enforce it—are suppressing housing construction and enabling New York's affordable housing shortage.

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.

Consequently, over 40 percent of downstate New York residents spend more than a third of their income on rent, while many live in unpermitted ADUs that could pose safety risks, such as the basement apartments that flooded during Hurricane Ida. Proponents of the bills argue that legalizing ADU rental would increase available housing units and help homeowners bring existing units up to code to protect tenants.

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