The Return Of The King: Albany Aims To Take Away Your Home Rule

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British Parliament Stamp Act 1765, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s a slippery slope. Once the camel’s nose pokes into the tent, it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the beast enters that humble abode.

And so it is with our own communities.

Or at least so it may soon be.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned. These pages brought this to your attention in a most blunt manner several years ago (see “First They Came For Our Plastic Bags…,” Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, February 6, 2020). Each year, it seems, Albany removes another right from our fingers.

Like a spreading disease, this usurpation creeps into the very heart of our lives. This year, it threatens our very communities.

It’s called “Home Rule,” and it’s part of existing New York State law. First paragraph of Section 10 (“General Powers of Local Governments to Adopt and Amend Local Laws “) of the New York Municipal Home Rule Law states:

“[E]very local government shall have power to adopt and amend local laws not inconsistent with the provisions of the constitution or not inconsistent with any general law relating to its property, affairs or government”

In case there is any doubt, the Law (in Section 50) explicitly expresses the “Legislative Intent”:

“It is not the intention of the legislature hereby to abolish or curtail any rights, privileges, powers or jurisdiction heretofore conferred upon or delegated to any local government or to any board, body or officer thereof, unless a contrary intention is clearly manifest from the express provisions of this chapter or by necessary intendment therefrom, or to restrict the powers of the legislature to pass laws regulating matters other than the property, affairs or government of local governments as distinguished from matters relating to their property, affairs or government.”

Last year, primarily downstate elected officials offered proposals in the State legislature to legalize “auxiliary dwelling units” (“ADUs”).

To justify this idea, New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas said in a public hearing, “We are not keeping pace with our housing production based on our population growth and our job growth so there’s a real demand for housing, especially downstate. You could argue that many people in our homeless shelters are there for purely economic reasons.”

Note that, by her own admission, this is primarily a downstate issue. Last year’s effort failed, but Governor Kathy Hochul introduced it again in this year’s budget. This time it’s placed in there as a tax incentive.

Again, the camel’s nose sneaks under the tent.

Here’s how.

There’s another, more ominous, aspect of Hochul’s annual budget. It falls under the New York Housing Compact. “New York faces a housing crisis that requires bold actions and an all-hands-on-deck approach,” Governor Hochul said. “Every community in New York must do their part to encourage housing growth to move our State forward and keep our economy strong. The New York Housing Compact is a comprehensive plan to spur the changes needed to create more housing, meet rising demand, and make our state a more equitable, stable, and affordable place to live.”

She then goes on to explain this with statistics claiming rent and housing prices have risen dramatically. To combat this, she had announced community housing growth targets. Rick Milne explains the proposed requirements of this on page 9 in this week’s Mayors and Supervisors Update. Essentially, it requires our communities to increase the number of houses by 1% over the next three years.

Hochul offers incentives to achieve this target, especially if that housing is, what she calls, “affordable.”

The camel begins to poke his entire head into the tent.

But it gets worse.

Hochul throws down the gauntlet when she says, “After 3 years, in localities that do not meet growth targets or do not take steps to implement Preferred Actions, proposed housing developments that meet particular affordability criteria, but may not conform to existing zoning, may take advantage of a fast-track housing approval process if the locality denies the permit. The appeal can be made to a new State Housing Approval Board or through the courts.”

Tent, meet the entire camel.

The governor is proposing if our local community fails to meet the state-imposed target for housing growth, the State will take over.

Wait! Didn’t we have a revolution over this sort of thing, oh, maybe 250 years ago or so?

As Henrietta Supervisor Steve Schultz said in our front-page story last week, “We’re going to end up with some heavy handed legislation that comes out of Albany and tries to solve problems for downstate, and then paint upstate with the same brush. Solutions that work in one area often don’t work in the other area.”

Why do we need more housing in a state that is rapidly losing population? This loss is most acute in the Greater Western New York Region. From a supply and demand standpoint, this will harm the value of existing homes, which are already under pressure from dramatically rising inflation and spiking interest rates.

This proposal makes no sense, and there must be a bipartisan response from Greater Western New York elected officials to oppose this for the good of their own communities.

Alternatively, and this would be fair and equitable, since the State is offering money to communities that increase housing stock, that same money should be refunded directly to taxpayers in those communities that actively choose to not abide by the state mandate.

Hmm, maybe this idea can then spread to other state mandates, whether they’re imposed on counties, cities, towns, villages, and even school districts.

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