As recently reported in Newsday [Not Sold On Homes Plan], the Long Island Regional Planning Board has released a draft study which, according to housing advocates, underestimates – some say grossly so – Long Island’s need for affordable housing.
While Lee Koppelman, Executive Director of the Regional Planning Board, acknowledges the affordable housing shortage on Long Island, the draft report points to a decreasing population in many Long Island communities (obviously, the shadow population of illegal renters has been overlooked in its entirety) and, curiously, lower monthly costs of home ownership.
Whoa! Lower costs of home ownership? That’s where the Planning Board’s report turns from “draft” to “tornado,” a vacuum sucking all reason and reality from Long Island’s housing scene.
According to the report, in 1985, the monthly cost of home ownership was $2,830, compared with $2,388 in 2004. The Planning Board cites lower interest rates for this finding. [Yes, we're talking 1985 costs in 2004 dollars, but still, the numbers don't jive with the finding that the true costs of home ownership are less today than they were in 1985.]
While statistics can be made to show anything we’d like them to show, these figures alone are so skewed that they cannot be said to pass the straight face test. Is there anyone reading this – or anyone that any reader knows – who is paying less today for housing costs than they did in 1985? Maybe – just maybe – if we take property taxes out of the equation, and you refinanced when rates were rock bottom, you may have broken even. Even then. If you pay property taxes as part of your mortgage, you will find, more often than not, your monthly tax escrow to be greater than the principal and interest on your loan combined.
Let’s pull out those Tax Statements for 1985. Hmm. Combined Town, County and School tax - $4,246. Now, the Tax Statement for 2004 (drum roll, please) - $10,672. Yup, our housing costs have gone down.
Never met Lee Koppelman. We’re sure he’s a wonderful guy. Brilliant, in fact. But come on now, Lee. It doesn’t take an expert in the field of either planning or economics (or someone who plays such an expert on TV) to realize that housing costs on Long Island have skyrocketed since 1985, and real income has nowhere kept pace.
Even the Planning Board's own figures belie the study's conclusions. In 1994, the median price of a single family home in Nassau County was $176,000. In 2004, the median price was $427,000. How is it possible that monthly housing costs have gone down?
The Community Alliance has reviewed the July, 2005 Summary Presentation of the Housing Segment of the Long Island Regional Comprehesive Plan, as promulgated by the Planning Board, and to be fair, the study, even in its infancy, reaches toward numerous admirable goals.
We agree with the Board that "the key to building more affordable housing is higher density" - that balanced mix of attached and semi-attached homes; smaller single family houses amidst the McMansions; rentals and ownership properties interspersed with retail businesses in the "downtowns" of our communities.
Among the salient points advanced by the Planning Board that merit implementation are:
- Housing programs that target specific populations, including seniors, the young, seasonal workers, and middle-class professionals;
- Creation of a "Next Generation Housing Fund," to assist with down payment for home ownership; and
- Streamlining the approval process and removing unnecessary barriers for the construction of affordable housing.
The Community Alliance deems as unacceptable, however, the Board's proposal to turn illegal housing units into legal accessory dwelling units, an idea that would legitimatize the dangers - to life, limb and suburbia - of illegal apartments in single-family homes. Anyone who believes otherwise need only take a drive through Elmont!
As we’ve intimated before [okay, we’ve come right out and screamed it], there hasn’t been anything close to planned development on Long Island since Robert Moses built his causeway. Build what you want, as big as you like, the uglier the better – and if, by some odd quirk, there’s a rule that says you can’t do that, we’ll find a way to carve out an exception.
“Smart Growth” on Long Island it is not. On our island, “regional planning” has been and, in great measure, remains an oxymoron.
Studies are all well and good. Everyone should have a study commissioned once in his or her lifetime. A study on affordable housing on Long Island, however, must come out of the box with a basic premise – that there just is not enough of it!
For more information on “Smart Growth” initiatives, visit www.smartgrowth.org.
For more information on a "vision" of a Long Island where communities and neighborhoods have a true sense of place, visit www.visionlongisland.org.
To be a true rebel for the cause of community, visit www.thecommunityalliance.org and "sign up" as a "friend."