Long Island, as a region, is far more complex than most give it credit for. Spanning a wide array of socio-economic demographics, New York City’s principal suburb faces a unique challenge in the coming decades: Ensuring the provision of housing options that are both desirable, and affordable to a wide swath of the region’s population.
The provision of affordable housing on Long Island has been called the region’s greatest urban planning failure of the last fifty years. According to pre-recession estimates made by the Long Island Regional Planning Board, the Nassau-Suffolk region needs 41,429 affordable housing units. This figure is especially startling when one takes into account the exponential increases in the price of homes across the area, paired with the rise of the cost of living over the last decades. Areas that once served as the affordable bedroom communities to Manhattan and its environs are now out of reach for young professionals and families. To fully understand the issues surrounding our housing woes, it is necessary to look at both the political climate of Long Island, the needs and wants of residents, and the development process itself.
Urban Planning theory dictates that balance must be struck by three often-conflicting forces: Economics, Social and Environmental. On Long Island, land use and zoning codes are crafted to accommodate the needs of the underlying aquifer system where our drinking water comes from. The reason why so many communities lack the apartments that developers and other involved stakeholders claim the region needs is because the appropriate wastewater systems aren’t in place. Socially, the Island’s communities are strictly divided. A quick drive between Garden City and Roosevelt or Dix Hills and Wyandanch shows how the two ends of the socio-economic spectrum can coexist roughly a mile or two apart. Economically, the job opportunities available to Long Island’s young professionals are few and far between, further exasperating the lingering effects of the recession. Add in homeowners who are wary of change in their community, and the result is the convergence of powerful forces to complicate an already complex policy issue.
Further, the regional discussion on how to nurture affordable development is being led by advocates, developers and other stakeholders who have a “dog in the fight” when it comes to increasing density. We must move away from this stakeholder dominated regional discussion, and get real, data-driven policy analysis by those without bias.
Regionally, it is the job of policymakers and residents to take charge and begin to fully quantify and understand our regional housing problem. First, there must be a clear understanding of what exactly is to be considered “affordable” in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. Often, Area Median Income (AMI) is measured in a variety of ways that lump in our unique region with New York City, Connecticut and beyond. What is needed is a standardized approach to assessing AMI which takes into account the economic nuances of Long Island. Next, we must begin to fully quantify how many truly affordable units exist across both counties.
Once these challenges are addressed, Long Islanders can finally get serious about addressing our affordable housing woes.
Richard Murdocco writes weekly for Long Island Business News' Young Island on land use, planning and public policy. His work and research on urban planning has been featured in Newsday, The Long Island Press, and News 12 Long Island, as well as a variety of other print and online publications. Murdocco has his BA in both Political Science and Urban Studies from Fordham University, and his MA in Public Policy from Stony Brook University, where he studied planning with Dr. Lee Koppelman, Long Island's veteran planner.
Murdocco is the founder of TheFoggiestIdea.org, the go-to resource for Long Island's land use and policy. The goal of theFoggiestIdea is to take complex land use issues, and make them approachable to the general public. You can follow him on Twitter @TheFoggiestIdea and Google Plus, or email him at Rich@TheFoggiestIdea.org.