Politics & Policy

Cuomo’s War on Housing

New York governor Andrew Cuomo (Mike Segar/Reuters)
The New York governor talks up affordable housing, but his actual policies achieve precisely the opposite.

Greater New York is, as you may have heard, kind of expensive.

Some of the inflated expenses associated with life in New York can be avoided: You can forgo those $15 packs of cigarettes, and your lungs will thank you. You can skip the $59 prix fixe lunch at Del Posto and opt for the dollar slice instead. The subways don’t work worth a damn anymore, but you’ll still avoid the 18.375 percent parking tax.

But you have to live somewhere.

As in the Bay Area, Washington, and other Democrat-dominated cities, housing is the real killer in New York City and environs.

Partly that’s about demand, and the demand side of the equation is good news for these cities: Lots of people want to live in them, especially the young, the affluent, and the up-and-coming. But if you aren’t rich already, it can be pretty hairy: The average price for a house in San Francisco is $1.6 million and climbing, and the median rent for an apartment in New York City is almost $3,400 ($4,200 in Manhattan), meaning that you’d need an annual income of about $128,000 to afford the typical apartment.

The median household income in New York City isn’t half that.

Demand is strong — what about supply?

Like most U.S. cities advertising themselves as “progressive,” New York has a lot of political leaders who talk about affordable housing and a lot of political policies that keep affordable housing — and many other kinds of housing — from being built. This is not accidental: People who already own property typically have a lot more political influence than people in the first-time home-buyer market.

Andrew Cuomo is a good example of a New York politician who is on both sides of the housing fence.

Cuomo spent a good part of his early political career (the years he spent deciding whether to run for mayor or governor) attached to various kinds of affordable-housing initiatives. He founded something called Housing Enterprise for the Less Privileged — HELP; politicians and their stupid acronyms — which in theory was a housing advocacy group but was in practice something created so that Mario Cuomo’s idiot son would have something to be in charge of, sparing some poor NYC law firm from keeping him on the payroll as political tribute. During the Clinton administration, Cuomo was appointed deputy secretary of HUD. Secretary of HUD is where most administrations park their most useless political patronage clients; you can imagine what it takes to be made deputy secretary of HUD. Cuomo ended up in charge of the place when Henry Cisneros was forced out after an investigation into hush money paid to a former mistress. Cisneros was convicted of a minor charge and then pardoned by Bill Clinton, who was always sympathetic to that sort of thing.

With that kind of résumé, you’d think that Cuomo would be doing something to make housing in New York more affordable. In fact, he’s doing the opposite.

Turns out that it’s hard to build new housing with no utility connections.

With new residential towers planned for several communities in New York City’s Westchester County suburbs, Con Ed has declared a moratorium on new gas connections. You can thank Andrew Cuomo for that: At the behest of moneyed environmental interests, Cuomo has stood athwart the building of practically any new conventional energy infrastructure, including pipelines for clean-burning natural gas. The Left is opposed to such new infrastructure full stop, part of an ideological crusade against natural gas and other plentiful sources of energy. Without additional pipeline capacity, Con Ed cannot deliver gas to its customers — and, unlike the Cuomo administration, the utility has decided against making promises that it cannot keep.

The Cuomo administration has criticized Con Ed for failing to propose “alternative solutions,” but natural gas is the alternative solution — to heating oil. Natural gas is cheaper and cleaner — if you can get it.

Much of New York’s gas comes from Pennsylvania and West Virginia, but there isn’t enough carrying capacity to get it to New York. And New York has plenty of gas of its own, too, but New Yorkers can’t use it — thanks again to Cuomo, who has banned modern gas-extraction techniques in the state, again at the behest of the anti-energy ideologues who enjoy an outsized financial footprint in the Democratic party.

If you are wondering what a Green New Deal looks like, here it is: a lot of dopey rhetoric and committee meetings about affordability and sustainability, combined with actual policies that achieve precisely the opposite. Constraining the supply of energy constrains the supply of housing — a fact that should be obvious enough even for a former deputy secretary of HUD to understand.

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