Fed Up With High Taxes, Cost Of Living, And Unaffordability Of Their Own Homes, Long Islanders Want Out
Several months back, The Community Alliance opined that Long Islanders -- or at least the best and the brightest, the youthful and the elders, the "fed up to the pupiks" -- were packing their bags and voting with their feet. No Polls. No surveys. No think tank. No grant from the Ford Foundation. We simply took note of the For Sale signs, and saw that our good neighbors were heading west -- and north, and south.
Now, a Poll conducted by the Long Island Index reveals that more Long Islanders than ever before, faced with sticker shock from skyrocketing taxes and escalating costs for housing, are considering a move off the Island. What a surprise! [Click here to see Poll results.]
It seems we like the services (79% of those surveyed rated garbage service as "good" to "excellent." Looks like Tony Santino was right after all. :-), but can't stand paying the high prices commanded by them.
Well over half of those queried (56%) said they were "somewhat likely" (24%) to "very likely" (32%) to move out of Long Island during the next five years, joining the caravan in search of more affordable housing and lower property taxes.
Needless to say (but we'll say it anyway), this does not bode well for Long Island's economy, or for those of us ("Hello? Hello? Where did everybody go?") who, for reasons known only to God, decide to stay behind to hold down the fort.
Newsday's online Poll, in progress as this blog was being written, showed equally disturbing results. Newsday asked: "Which of the following reasons have prompted you to consider moving away from Long Island?"
34.3% The housing prices are too high (1367 responses);
54.0% Property taxes are too high (2152 responses);
0.8% I'm unsatisfied with local services such as sanitation (32 responses);
1.8% Too much crime (71 responses);
1.0% Weak school system (41 responses)
8.1% I would never leave Long Island (322 responses)
[3985 total responses as of 4:30 PM on Thursday, December 1, 2005.]
It would be interesting to make further inquiry of those "hold outs" who would never leave the Island as to the reasons behind their decision to stay put.
An informal survey conducted within the last 3 minutes by The Community Alliance reveals some interesting trends:
26.3% In a coma at Nassau University Medical Center;
18.5% School Superintendents making in excess of $150,000 per year;
45.7% Relatives of Kate Murray or GOP Committeemen on Town Payroll;
9.4% Stuck on the Long Island Expressway and can't get out;
0.1% Because I'm Gary DelaRaba, that's why!
Then again, this is no laughing matter. Nor do we need a Poll to tell us that there's a growing rift between LIers love for their community and their continuing ability to pay through the nose for the privilege of residing here.
As reported in Newsday [Poll: More people thinking of leaving Long Island], Seth Forman, Deputy Director of the Long Island Regional Planning Board, questions the basis of LIer's fears and concerns. "While anxiety about housing costs is high, it's unclear how well-founded those fears are," said Forman. "For example, while property values have skyrocketed in recent years, the vast majority of Long Islanders -- 69 percent, according to this poll -- already own their homes. Low interest rates have led many to refinance their mortgages at better rates. Rental prices across Long Island have either stagnated or slightly decreased in the past three years," he said.
"Long Island has always been high-cost, and people have always been complaining about it," Forman said.
Gee. We own our homes. [Actually, the banks own them, and for those who refinanced with adjustable rate loans, the time has come to pay the piper.] Then what in the name of the Mineola Indians could it be that would push us off our Island? Try the property tax, stupid. Nearly the highest in the nation, save Hawaii (and this ain't the Big Island, if you haven't noticed). Its the high cost of electricity and home heating fuels (remember when Richie Kessel was a consumer advocate?), not to mention that cable bill. Its every time you go to the supermarket for a container of milk and a loaf of bread, and barely get change back from your twenty dollar bill -- although you do somehow manage to walk out with 12 plastic bags to hold the 2 items purchased.
Damn, can't anyone see that -- and this blogger speaks only for himself and several million other Long Islanders -- WE CAN NO LONGER AFFORD TO LIVE IN OUR OWN HOMES?
Sure, our homes are worth twice, four times, or maybe ten times what we paid for them. Of course, we've had to take all the equity out just to gas up the car. Even those with plentiful cash locked in that house understand, its of no value until you sell.
Do the math, and the equation is most telling. Your house is worth $400,000. Your property taxes are $10,000. Your kids are out of high school or otherwise on their own -- and probably off the Island. You can buy a bigger house, with more land, in South Carolina, for half of what your house will sell for, with combined taxes of less than a quarter of what you now pay. Well, it doesn't take an Economist to figure this one out.
Retirees on fixed incomes -- gone. College grads, who don't live in mom and dad's basement, and could never afford a home on LI -- gone. Young workforce (together with a whole host of employers who cannot afford or are simply unwilling to pay the high property taxes) -- gone.
Why, even the homeless are leaving Long Island, with few shelters other than the crime-infested no-tell motels, the cold shoulder from social service agencies, themselves strapped financially, empty shelves in the soup kitchens, and philanthropists and public do-gooders so tapped out that not even they can spare a dime.
This blogger read a heart-wrenching real life story today in this week's Long Island Press entitled, Homeless for the Holidays. The tears flowed freely, and the first thought that came to mind was, "There but for the grace of God go I." No one reading this story -- and we urge every one of you to do so -- can help but be moved. We want to help; to offer a decent job with sustainable pay; to provide a permanent roof overhead; to send an e-mail to the writer and say, "Call me, I am here for you!" Unfortunately, there are too few among us -- living paycheck to paycheck, hand to mouth, property tax bill to property tax bill -- who can afford to lend a hand. [By the way, if anyone reading the Long Island Press article can give the writer of that piece a hand up, please do. We'll say it again -- "He who saves the life of one person, saves the entire world!"]
So, here we are, watching. Watching our friends, neighbors, and retired public employees (with those fat pensions we're funding) pack their bags and move to less expensive, if not more hospitable climes. Its a brain drain, a generational divider, a squeeze on the "middle class," a burden on the dwindling tax base, and a pox on all our houses. We watch, as the promise of suburbia slowly slips away. Yes, we watch, as Long Islanders seek a better, or at least less expensive life elsewhere, and we cannot help but think to ourselves, "There but for the grace of who?"
If there is anyone still out there who, by chance, may be listening, please help make it possible for us to "live" and remain on our beloved Long Island. The hour grows late. The twilight approaches. We can only hang on for so long.
Polls, surveys, task forces and summits are all nice. They have their places, but they will not extricate us from the jaws of the beast that has its deadly grip around our necks. We need fresh, out of the box ideas and no nonsense strategies, set in play by courageous leadership. We need a New Deal, or at the very least, a Marshall Plan, for our Island, in our time.
Until then -- if ever -- here we sit, watching as Long Islanders, like refugees from the Dust Bowl or "evacuees" from the Big Easy, pack their belongings, take to the road in their cars, trucks and shopping carts, and vote, in numbers ever-mounting, with their feet.