Recently, Ann Golob and Nancy Rauch-Douzinas, both from the Long Island Index, wrote individual op-eds on Long Island’s housing mix that appeared on the pages of LIBN and in the Huffington Post.
The pieces, like many before them, argue that the key to Long Island’s future is diversity in housing options. Differentiating these op-eds from the others that came before them, both cite a new Long Island Index survey highlighting that many Long Islanders are more open to rentals, apartments and townhouses in the region. The survey’s findings serve as the cornerstone of both op-eds. It would seem that Long Island’s residents are more open to density, different types of housing and rentals than they were in the past.
The survey results are encouraging, but we must take them a step further. Policymakers must actually work to build higher density projects that support truly affordable rents, and the Long Islanders who express their support for these housing options must participate in their local government’s land-use process.
While there is no denying that Long Island needs a variety of different housing options, the current development approach being undertaken is not advancing the goals of economic diversification, nor are these local respondents making their voices heard to their representatives in government.
While yes, multifamily units are being built on Long Island, many of the current developments serve the luxury market. Currently, there is a disconnect – density is being increased with the justification of providing additional housing options for Long Islanders (many of them claimed to cater to the ever-valuable millennials), while not serving the population that needs affordable options.
There must be a comprehensive, regional approach undertaken in order to quantify LI’s housing needs, while at the same time justifying the right way to tackle the large, decades-old problem of housing costs in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Increasing a diverse housing stock in a region can only go so far; we need to quantify our regional costs and identify what, exactly, drives up the cost of living on Long Island. Many argue that the Nassau-Suffolk region’s numerous school districts are to blame. While accurate, it is important to realistically temper expectations. Given the success rate of past attempts at merging districts, consolidation isn’t happening anytime soon. We must look to other drivers of cost that are easier to tackle, and quantify and address them accordingly.
Housing on Long Island is, and always will be, a tough nut to crack. New York is an expensive state to live in, and our balkanized special districts amplify the cost. Adding to the region’s cost burden, Long Island’s policymaking in this arena is being driven by stakeholders who all benefit from streamlining the approval process and upping density, all while the analytical conversation is being dictated by those who stand to gain from increased development.
The Index’s survey is encouraging, but the findings must be taken to the next step – if the public is supportive of such housing options being built, they must participate in the various civic processes and not protest every gas station that is proposed, or a pocket park in their subdivision.
Long Islanders and their elected officials must also realize that housing diversity and stock is one piece of a very complex, interconnected puzzle.
If we do in fact continue on this path of trying to up density in a flawed attempt to lower cost, we must at least try to offset the growth with equal preservation efforts. If we don’t, the end result will be higher density sprawl, which is far worse than the current sprawl we have. Preservation balanced with growth is the true key to Long Island’s future.
Then, and only then, will we be able to, as Rauch put it, “increase the economic vitality that the region seeks,” but in a truly sustainable manner.