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Albany Common Council hoping state, federal funds can mitigate impact of housing ordinance

What new housing ordinance means for developers, tenants (WRGB)
What new housing ordinance means for developers, tenants (WRGB)
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After weeks of debate, the Albany Common Council overrode a Mayor veto to pass an inclusionary zoning ordinance, requiring developers to include more affordable housing units in new projects.

Now, new residential or mixed-use development with 20 to 49 units must include 7 percent of affordable units, 50 to 60 apartments must include 10 percent affordable units, 60 to 75 apartments must include 12 percent affordable units and 76 or more apartments must include 13 percent affordable units. Prior to the new legislation, developers were required to have 5 percent of their projects include affordable housing.

In this case, the housing is reserved for a person making 60 percent of the area median income. For Albany that's someone earning roughly $30,000/year.

"Since the eviction moratorium I can say rents have been increasingly going up...much higher than folks are used to," United Tenants of Albany Executive Director Canyon Ryan says.

Despite the legislation passing the council unanimously, Mayor Sheehan vetoed, then when the council reworked some language, the Mayor vetoed once again.

In her memo to the council, mayor Sheehan said:

"The common council has disregarded the expertise of economic development and affordable housing professionals with decades of cumulative experience helping attract and create both affordable and market rate housing."

She goes on:

"It will push development to the suburbs, and residents in our formerly redlined neighborhoods will continue to bear the burdens of concentrated poverty."

The council then voted 12-2 to override the veto on Monday, April 17th.

"We're dealing with Covid now, development is a little different, everything is a lot pricier," Common Council member Kelly Kimbrough says. "Prices have gone up, but that's true for everyone. Groceries, gas, everyone's feeling the pinch, not just developers. So this was our attempt, it's not a solution, but it's a step we think in the right direction."

Hyde Clark and Deborah Zamer were the two council members who voted no, both saying they agree with the push for more inclusionary housing, but thought there could be a different way to accomplish growth. Zamer says her constituents in Ward 14 pushed against the override.

"There were other projects brought to my attention just in the last few days, right before the veto override vote, that came to my attention that are potentially going to be paused," Zamer says. "I spoke to a lot of experts that are doing a lot of the building. They've been showing me data and numbers. They would not be able to get the financing from banks, from investors."

Moving forward, all new development in Albany will need to adhere to these benchmarks, including the high profile ones like the Central Warehouse. Redburn Development and Columbia Development officially took ownership in December, which sparked excitement from officials, who were hoping it would be the next step in finally getting the building restored.

"I hope [the ordinance] doesn't [impact the Central Warehouse]," Kimbrough says. "I'm happy Governor Hochul is actually focused on affordable housing, maybe some of the funding from her plan can go towards it."

Kimbrough added that he hopes that state, or even federal funding, can help fill the gaps created through the ordinance, pushing for those officials to help continue to incentivize development in the city. Zamer agrees.

"For mixed income, which is a combination of market rent and more affordable units, there isn't help for that currently in New York," she says. "So that's something we really need to work towards. I'm hoping and a few other council members are hoping that we can be advocating to our state and federal representatives to help us make that possible"

This push for affordable housing comes as tenants say they're struggling to find cheap places to live.

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"It's hard to live off a fixed income, pay rent, have a car, buy food," Albany resident Michael Townsend says. "If they didn't pass that ordinance, we basically wouldn't have a leg to stand on. This at least gives us some kind of fighting chance."

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