An outmigration crisis? Hochul’s plan to keep people in New York.

An outmigration crisis? Hochul’s plan to keep people in New York.

ALBANY – Twenty-five years ago, Kathy Hochul was reflecting on an early political loss. Despite efforts to block Walmart, the big box store had opened in her town.

The development left then-Erie County City Councilwoman Hamburg with a number of lessons to bring to bear on making changes to the city’s master plan. The goal was to “show developers our vision of how the city will grow, not the other way around.”

“You call yourself a communist,” Hochul would tell the Buffalo News in 1997. “But what we want is to preserve the character of the city, not give in to rampant growth. We want to decide where the new businesses go.”

The following year, she would also begin her campaign in support of her neighbors’ right to not pay tolls when traveling between their communities and downtown Buffalo via the New York State Thruway.

“Fare barriers form a circular loop, suffocating our downtown,” Hochul said in a 1998 Buffalo News op-ed. It left a “chilling effect on the business climate”.

“Would eliminating tolls result in an economic revival for Western New York? Certainly not,” Hochul said. “But according to one businessman who is considering leaving our area, (the meetings are) another nail in the coffin.”

Hochul, now the first upstate governor in a century, is grappling with a different kind of challenge, but with the same theme: How to stem New York State’s immigration flow in the face of economic headwinds, the realities of post- pandemic and a housing crisis in which there are more jobs than houses?

In last year’s State of the State address, Hochul’s first since taking office in August 2021, the governor said New York needs to “take a hard look in the mirror and face a harsh reality.”

“For those who were temporarily displaced by the pandemic or are trying to decide their next steps during these uncertain times,” Hochul said, “I have a message: You don’t want to miss out on what’s next. “

The plan included massive investments in child care and health care. It featured investments to curb gun violence, building new infrastructure and planned tax relief for small businesses and middle-class New Yorkers. He tried to make the state’s university system a crown jewel.

Hochul vowed to “jump start our economic recovery by being the most business- and worker-friendly state in the country.”

The following year, the state’s population loss continued to lead the nation, according to census data.

Over a two-year period, New York State is estimated to have lost nearly half a million people, but the state has returned to about 85 percent of the total jobs it had before the pandemic began. The topic is one that Hochul’s gubernatorial opponent, Rep. then-U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin made it the centerpiece of his campaign. And it shaped the state of this year.

“We are already seeing signs of emigration that we cannot ignore,” Hochul said Tuesday. “The good news is: it doesn’t have to be this way.”

Dignitaries, from left, Rep. American Paul Tonko, then-Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, then-Thruway Authority Executive Director Bill Finch and then-Amsterdam Mayor Michael Villa cut a ribbon opening the new Mohawk Valley Gateway Pedestrian Bridge, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016, in Amsterdam.

John Carl D’Annibale What’s the plan?

Hochul is looking toward housing policy that promotes greater density, even if it is at odds with the wishes of some local governments.

“We came up with some very bold and impactful initiatives — ideas that won’t be easy at all, but they’re necessary,” Hochul said in a speech in December, in which she predicted the necessity of her policy to tackle a housing crisis she called “decade in the making.”

She cited issues such as “institutional barriers” and “NIMBYism on steroids,” referring to people who say they don’t want some kind of development in their “backyard.”

Her view is that New York is not currently challenged by a lack of good-paying jobs, but by a lack of places to live once someone gets a job.

According to her administration, 800,000 more jobs than housing units were created over the past decade. New York is losing people to neighboring states where they can commute to work and afford their home. (She did not mention the recent trend of teleworking from a more affordable state.)

Administration officials believe their plan, if approved, to build 800,000 units in a decade would double the expected increase in housing supply. The new units, not necessarily homes for low-income people, could help fix a market short on housing supply, administration officials said. It could also “trickle down,” leading to lower rents over time, they said, countering that more supply would not lead to higher rental costs or displacing residents. It also wouldn’t lower property values, officials said, citing a variety of research.

“If we do the hard things, which turn out to be the right things, we can transform this (immigration) crisis into an opportunity,” Hochul said.

Hochul believes that creating more housing gives young people the opportunity to live in the communities where they grew up, as she did in Hamburg.

“If you can’t live near your grandchildren if you want to, something is breaking the social order, the fabric is breaking down,” Hochul said in December, also noting the connection of this dynamic to the cost of child care.

Gov. Kathy Hochul enters the House chamber to deliver her State of the State address Tuesday at the Capitol in Albany.

Will Waldron/Times Union

Another key element in strengthening New York, Hochul said, is addressing the growing mental health crisis. Her plan focuses on people with acute illnesses who may go through a revolving door of homelessness, hospital stays and, sometimes, jail, without access to stable housing.

It’s an issue Hochul faced regularly on the city board in Hamburg, where, she said recently, she took “the line of fire” for allowing zoning for group homes against the wishes of “NIMBYs, people that they didn’t want that to happen.”

Also of recent concern is the proliferation of illegal firearms and the general increase in crime. The governor hopes to amend the state’s parole statute related to “serious crimes” and continue to invest in reducing gun violence.

“If New Yorkers don’t feel safe in our communities, if they can’t afford to buy a home or pay rent, then the dream remains out of reach,” Hochul said Tuesday.

And while Hochul has often spoken about the state’s plentiful supply of jobs — but not enough homes — she also points to a lack of skills and education needed by employers about the workforce.

“This is partly due to population loss during and after the pandemic,” Hochul’s policy book says.

It also attributes it to people dropping out of the labor market and a lack of proper workforce training.

The governor wants to see the state Department of Labor offer more effective career development, focusing on “high-demand industries and hard-to-fill job titles.” Hochul wants the State University of New York to work with that department.

Citing successes, she often points to Micron’s $100 billion investment in the Syracuse area, which is tied to state subsidies. This year, Hochul wants to create an Office of the Governor of Expansion, Management and Integration of Semiconductors to help manage and facilitate future investments.

For Hochul, it comes back to the state encouraging more housing to be built, especially around areas of job growth. And to do it in a way that will allow New York to keep pace with neighboring states, even if policies get pushback from suburban communities here.

“We want the brightest, the best, the smartest, the most innovative, the best at risk to keep coming here, because that’s what made New York what it is,” Hochul said. “But we are in a competition with other states, literally with our hands tied behind our backs.”

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