(WNY News Now) – New York Governor Kathy Hochul delivered a keynote address at New York University’s 56th Annual Conference on Capital Markets in Real Estate, outlining her vision for the “new New York Dream.”
New York, New York – Good afternoon. Anyone who doubts that New York City is back, have you seen the traffic lately? Okay, you light one Christmas tree the night before and all of a sudden every bus from America wants to be down these streets, but I think it’s a beautiful sign.
When I first took office two years ago, we were still in the throes of a pandemic. If you’ve forgotten about it, just go to a high school like I did a few hours ago and talk to the students because they’re still dealing with the emotional and psychological impacts and they’ll tell you in their own words what they’re going through. So there’s a lot of residual effects of something that really hit us to our core right here in New York.
And when you shutter the greatest city on earth, you can’t expect to rebound immediately. But it feels like this rebound is taking a little longer. And that’s why I’m very focused on all the metrics that say things are better. We also have to give people hope that these dark times, the clouds are now dissipating. That the better days and the sunshine are still with us.
I still see great opportunity amidst all this. In fact, it’s been said that a pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity, but an optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty. And I’m looking out at a room full of optimists for sure, and I want to thank NYU for this gathering, the Schack Institute of Real Estate, and all the leaders who had this vision, Larry Silverstein and others, years ago.
All the members of this golden apple panel who will have, will be like the soothsayers of all the answers we need when you listen to them in a few minutes, so I’m looking forward to hearing this. But Robert Blumenthal, Scott Rechler, Marty Berger, Jeff Blau, Bill Rudin, and Maryanne Gilmartin, they are the people who understand, not just what we’re going through today, but they know the history, they know the legacy of what they or their fathers and grandfathers had to endure at a time when a lot of people gave up on New York City as well back in the 1970s.
So we are, if we’re one thing, we are survivalists. We can always make the best of a difficult situation and rise up. And we’ve never lost that. So for a city known for its swagger, I’m here to say that swagger is back. I can see it, I can feel it, it’s real, it’s palpable. And all of you, whether you’re the students who are learning the trade so you can take your place among the giants – the visionaries who built this great city – or those who are still toiling and those who are on the other side looking back and seeing the landscapes, the skyscrapers, the beauty of this great city because of their hard work.
So what I’m feeling as someone who has trouble getting reservations myself, the bars and restaurants are booming, many more people working in person, which is what we want them to do – we went from zero to two days to three days, pushing for four to five. And for young people, here’s my advice: the ones who are showing up in the office will be the bosses someday.
So show up. Show up. There are people who want to mentor you, to take you by the hand, to show you the way. And they’re not going to do it Zooming into life, just an observation. But business is booming. Unemployment’s down. Talk to the businesses who are desperate to have people work for them. What a difference from when I was growing up.
I grew up in a region of the state where unemployment was 16, 17 percent, sometimes 20 when a huge steel plant left town. We have been down, but when unemployment is below 4 percent, that is a good metric. But also, you can’t just build, you can’t just talk about that, you have to have a foundation that is safe.
So since I took office two years ago, working closely with the Mayor of New York City and mayors all across New York, serious crimes have plummeted from what they had been at the time of the pandemic and immediately after. Murders are down 22 percent. Shootings are down 37 percent. I can’t tell people not to feel anxious and concerned. And there are a lot of indicators that we’re not there yet. I know that. And that’s why we’re focused on retail theft and helping homeless get off the streets and into supportive housing and the care they need. Making sure our subways are safe so no one ever hesitates about coming downtown. The numbers are absolutely trending in a good direction.
If they were not, I would tell you that, but you can’t argue with that. The numbers are trending in a very positive way. But, there’s also the visible signs. Last week I was at J. P. Morgan Chase’s Topping Off Ceremony. You get to sign the big piece of steel. Hopefully in your industry you’ve done a lot of that.
It said to me, this is a state-of-the-art workplace, not in another state, but it’ll be the home for 14,000 people. Good wages, a lot of good labor building those buildings, it’s extraordinary. When I stood there, I looked up at the sky and it was so bright and spectacular. It said, this is the state’s model, ever upward.
You want to see the future, you look upward. You see these buildings rising up. People living there, working there, raising their families, embracing all that it means to be a New Yorker, and it is extraordinary. But it’s not perfect. There’s always work to do. And that’s why in my budget, my proposals last year, I announced a new vision for New York. We call it the new New York Dream.
I want to make sure that this is a place where people can live without fear of crime. That they have the ability to enjoy a high quality of life. That they have great job opportunities, educational opportunities. And eventually when they retire, they don’t ever have to worry about the high cost of living.
That is the dream I have, but I’m talking about how to make that become a reality. And what I’m talking about is one of the number one drivers of keeping that dream out of people’s hands, is the high cost of housing. And you don’t need to just listen to me. Look at the Marist poll, 73 percent of New Yorkers have come to the conclusion that one of the biggest problems they face is the high cost of housing.
We also are building only one unit of housing for every three new jobs that are created. Do the math. This is what we work for all the time. I want to create new jobs. Businesses are coming. Very positive. Great story. But if they don’t have a place to live, it doesn’t work. They move to another state.
That’s the missing link to our unbridled success here in New York. And part of it is because, not because there’s not a lot of will in this room. The people you’re looking at and will talk to you. They want to build. But there are barriers. New York is unique in many good ways, and often some not so good ways.
The restrictive zoning in so many suburban areas. The power of local elected officials. One person would be able to kill an entire project because they didn’t like it. Nowhere else in the State is that available. Doesn’t happen. So we have to look at why there’s bans on multifamily housing in areas.
We have to figure out why people don’t support a program like 421A that helped build back this city since the 1970s. Understanding that if you want the worthy goal of having affordable housing built, you have to make it add up. And there’s been a decrease of 85 percent in housing starts since that lapsed. That’s what we’re facing right now. And the problem is people are saying, “I can’t afford to live here. I have to go somewhere else.” So, when you study out migration trends, like I do all the time, I’m looking at the states that people are going to. Okay, Florida. A little nicer weather. You got that, but that’s all you’ve got. That’s all you’ve got. But we’ve lost some people to Florida. We’ve lost some people to Texas. But let me look at three other states. For those who think it’s all about the weather, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. With similar tax structures, so it’s not the taxes, same weather. The difference is they built more housing over the last few decades, so because of supply and demand, and all you students know this. This is an educational course I think a lot of people around me have skipped. But you build more housing, okay, more supply, the prices go down, constant with demand. Demand is high, you build less, the prices are going to go up. Real basic, real basic.
So, more than half a million people left our State. I, number one, want them back, but I don’t want to lose anybody else. I don’t want to lose any other New Yorkers. What I’ve done already, and we have built nearly 27,000 housing units since I’ve been Governor, that’s nice. It’s not the number I’d like, but it’s 27,000 housing units. But also, we’re also financing multi housing units. $1.6 billion in bonds, capital investment almost over $983 million, tax credits $210 million, private investment leveraging over $4.3 billion in multi-family developments. New York State also bought $625 million worth of first-time mortgages. It’s helping people achieve that dream.
We signed the enactment of restoring the former J51 program to allow tax abatements for construction projects, making sure that there’s more flexibility in loans and grants, modernizing our existing finance laws, supporting resiliency and energy efficiency plans, more bonding capacity for the City of New York, $19 billion. Otherwise, they would have run out of bonding capacity. So, those are the things that are just out there. We’ve done it already. That’s what I would call the low hanging fruit, the low hanging apples. But I decided when I had a legislature that just couldn’t see fit to do the right thing here because you know what I proposed last year, I don’t think I need to educate everybody.
We had the boldest, most ambitious housing plan the New York Times said since Nelson Rockefeller was Governor. Anybody alive when Nelson Rockefeller was Governor? Okay, you’re not admitting how old you are. That was a long time ago. That’s a shame. That’s perhaps why we don’t have the housing now because it does take courage, takes a bold vision, but that’s what we have here in New York, right? Who’s bolder, who’s more visionary than we are? So, why is this so difficult?
So, I put out a plan, no guarantee of success, but I assume there’s a few hockey fans in this room, particularly given how well the Rangers are doing, number one right now. Is that right, no Rangers fans in this room? Okay. That doesn’t happen every day, my friends. A 16-4 record, I track all the numbers in this state.
But I’m also cognizant of what the great Wayne Gretzky once said. “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” I took a shot at it last year. I took a shot, we went bold. We had a housing compact, making sure that communities all knew they had a responsibility to keep building. Try to break down some of the barriers, reauthorize 421A, office conversions, transit-oriented development, ADUs, we had it all in our package.
And again, encouraging suburban areas to start breaking down those barriers and letting people live in the homes and the community that they were raised in – our police officers and teachers and firefighters be able to live in a neighborhood they were born in, for God’s sakes, and raise their kids there because they can’t afford it now? Why can’t we build to meet that demand?
So, it was a big shot, but I didn’t get an assist. A lot of people sat on the bench, passed the puck to someone else. Definitely not scoring. But, if anybody knows me, there’s always another season. There’s always another season. And I’ll step up again, tempered with the reality that there’s a lot going on out there, including an election this year for our Legislature, so that changes the focus for our members. I get it. But if they’re ready to stand up again, and do what’s right for their constituents, they will have a willing partner in me because failure is not an option for this State.
Having to turn away families and young people and businesses to say, “Oh yeah, we are the best place to do business. We’re the most exciting, the most fascinating, but you don’t have a house to live in, sorry.” That’s just a failed strategy. I’ve done a lot. I’ve tried to do my – a different sports analogy, my end run around – but the legislature wouldn’t do it this year, this one year.
I said, “I’ll use executive power.” All the money that people get discretionary to build up their communities, I pooled together, $650 million in a pot. If you prove to me that you’re willing to be a pro-housing community, and ask Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas, and let’s give her a round of applause for what she does, the head of HCR, Housing and Community Renewal. She helped devise this. You show us that you’re willing to step forward. I’ll unleash money to help your downtowns, and help rebuilding, and help with sewers. I’ll do that for you, and if you don’t want to play ball, then I’ll give it to another community. It’s that simple. So, we were told that the carrot and stick approach, carrots are nicer. I’ll do carrots this year.
But I’m watching. I’m watching closely. I’m putting up a dashboard to see all the housing starts and the growth because you can’t just tell me you’re doing it and not do it. I spent 14 years in local government – zoning board, traffic safety board, planning board. I know all the tricks.
So, I know what people can and can’t do. I know how they can stop a project. I know how they can open them up. So, that’s what I’m focused on. Also, breaking down the difficulty, the seeker process. Looking at that and saying, “I’ll do anything to protect the environment.” I’m a strong environmentalist. But sometimes the law is just so burdened with all these regulations and they’re not always necessary. But my God, they can slow down a project and make it much more expensive. So, we’re looking at that as well.
So, there’s opportunities we have before us, and then I drill real down. People probably have no idea how much time – and I love making deals. Projects like Gowanus – 8,500 units in an area that is heavily blighted. Always wanted someone to just care about that area and bring it back and give it new life. And for me, the number 8,500 units was an extraordinary opportunity to have a big impact all at once in a neighborhood. But it was going nowhere. So, my team and I got together, talked about it. I said, “you know what, let’s find another path,” and you know what we did? I used Empire State Development. So we can have a lease buyback situation. We can work out the financing. And I can just have the State do this. I can jump start it. I can do that in more places. So signaling to the Legislature, let’s work together because I can do this a lot, and I will do that until we come together and find a solution that makes sense going forward.
So we got that done, and I’m proud of that project. I’m also proud of the time we invested in World Trade Center 5. This one was a lot of long days and nights. I was on the phone with HUD, the Secretary of HUD. Can you give me money? Battery Park City, can you give us money toward this? The leaders of the Legislature, can you give money toward this?
The State, can you kick in more money? Can we make this all add up so out of 1,200 units rising up out of the sight of one of the worst terrorist attacks in the world’s history, new life being reborn. Visionaries like Larry Silverstein making this happen. But people wanted affordable housing. The survivors of 9/11, the families, the widows, said that the best tribute to their loved ones would be to allow people who helped rescue them and were there that day to be able to afford that neighborhood. And we made it happen.
That’s what I’m talking about. Creative solutions, when you hit the roadblock, you find another path. And that’s why I love working with this industry. You know how to make deals as well. You know exactly where we need to go. You know there’s a lot of curves in the road, but we’ll get there together. And that’s what I’m going to continue doing, focusing on transit-oriented development. I don’t know why people are so afraid of this. Those who’d rather see a vacant parking lot with tumbleweed after a night when everybody’s driven home, tell me how that’s better than first floor retail.
Little barbershop, little bodega, get that cup of coffee. Next level: parking levels. You had one and now you have four or five. Affordable housing, luxury housing. This is how you build communities. And no one needs to have a car, you can take the train in. I have been to so many places, from Long Island to Westchester and every place in between.
I’ve seen the answers. But I need this industry to help me. Help tell the story of all the great potential that could still be unlocked if we could work toward a solution. And everybody has to give a little bit. It’s the art of compromise, right? Healthy relationships have compromise. Anybody here married? You know what I’m talking about? I’ve been married 49 years, I’m an expert on this subject. Okay? You have got to give a little. But the results are so worth it.
And I, for one, know that together we can figure this out. I am a believer. I’m a dreamer, but I’m also a believer in the past success of what the giants of the real estate industry have accomplished through some really bad times and the good. And right now, I see a very bright future on the horizon. In fact, I see the equivalent of a Stanley Cup for this city.
So let’s make that happen, everybody. Thank you for caring so much. Thank you for being here today. And good luck at the rest of the conference.