Governors Tackle Housing Issues Head-On
Three governors in states facing serious housing affordability challenges began the year announcing plans to address the housing shortages in their states.
In Colorado, Massachusetts and New York, governors are realizing that they can and must play a role in ensuring that there are enough homes to keep pace with growing demand in their states.
It’s time for governors to get serious about adding to their state’s existing housing stock.
On January 10, Colorado Governor Jared Polis gave his second inaugural address, outlining his legislative plans for the state, including several initiatives to expand Colorado’s housing supply. Between 2010 and 2020, the state’s homebuilding activity dropped by almost 40 percent even as its population grew by 15%. The result has been increased rents and home prices as demand for housing outpaced supply.
In his remarks, Governor Polis acknowledged a need to build “more housing now,” while linking the housing shortage to other issues important to Coloradans. “Housing policy is climate policy. Housing policy is economic policy. Housing policy is transportation policy. Housing policy is water policy. Housing policy is public health and equity policy,” Polis said in his address.
2,000 miles eastward and a few days before Governor Polis’s inauguration, newly elected Massachusetts Governor Maura Healy was sworn in. In her inaugural address, she noted that the bay state had fallen behind in growing its housing supply. “People do want to live here,” she said. “But the cost of housing is out of control because we simply don’t have enough of it. If we want Massachusetts to be a home for all, we need to build more places to live, and we need to make sure those homes are within reach.”
Throughout her speech, Governor Healy emphasized preserving existing affordable housing, reforming zoning and building more housing near transit hubs – a point also emphasized by Governor Polis in his address. But Governor Healy went a step further, vowing to file legislation in her first 100 days on the job to create a Secretary of Housing for the state of Massachusetts. This new office, she said, would be tasked with working across government “to better connect housing to education, transportation, public safety and climate.”
In New York, Kathy Hochul was recently sworn in as the state’s first woman to be elected as governor (she had previously assumed the governorship when Andrew Cuomo stepped down). As in Colorado and Massachusetts, a majority of renters in New York are “rent burdened,” paying more than 30 percent of their income in rent, even though no state has more rent-controlled and public housing units than New York. In her State of the State address, Governor Hochul released an ambitious yet realistic plan to curb the housing crisis in her state.
Dubbed the “New York Housing Compact,” Hochul’s plan could create up to 800,000 new housing units across the state over the next decade. To do this, it would establish three-year goals for new housing production for every city, town and village in New York. Localities that do not meet their housing goals could lose the authority to deny housing projects going forward, a powerful incentive for local governments to reform their zoning codes to allow more new housing construction.
It’s encouraging to hear all three governors in these housing-starved states focus on the need for additional development. While some lawmakers in Colorado and Massachusetts are seeking to impose rent control – and some in New York are seeking to expand it – the data clearly demonstrates that the best way to address affordability issues is by tackling the imbalance between the demand for housing and the available supply.