On January 30th, the New York State Assembly unanimously (yes, we said "unanimously") passed a bill that, if enacted into law, would dramatically change both the fate and the face of workforce housing on Long Island.
The measure, known as the Long Island Workforce Housing Initiative, would, among other provisions, mandate a local government that approves a subdivision plat or site plan for five or more residential units to require the developer to set aside at least ten percent of such units for affordable workforce housing.
While the Assembly's passage of this legislation, and subsequent hand-off to the NYS Senate (where the bill has been referred to the Local Government Committee, Chaired by Senator Elizabeth O'Connor Little of Glens Falls), took place with very little fanfare, the impact of such legislation is particularly noteworthy to Long Islanders.
The bill's sponsor, Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli of Great Neck, cites the following as justification for the measure:
More than one out of four households in the country,almost 24 million, confront housing cost burdens. According to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), shelter costs should consume no more than approximately one-third -- in high cost areas (i.e., Long Island), 35% is sometimes used as thestandard -- of total income.
It is estimated that more than one out often households spend more than one-half of their incomes on housing with renters even more likely to have affordability difficulties. This problem is even more acute throughout Nassau and Suffolk Counties.
The Nassau Suffolk Primary Metropolitan Statistical Area as defined by HUD has been ranked the seventh least affordable area in the nation for middle-income housing according to a Washington, D.C. - based affordable housing organization. In the last four years, housing prices have risen 81% while household incomes have risen only 14%. This has put affordable homes and rental units out of reach for more and more individuals and families.
Approximately 80% of Nassau and Suffolk's housing stock is owner-occupied single family homes leaving an estimated 20% rental units. On Long Island, more than 25% of households -- and one-third of renters -- pay more than 35% of their gross monthly income on their rent or mortgage. In fact, according to a study, Lack of Affordable Housing: Prescription for Disaster, which was recently conducted for the Long Island Housing Partnership, ratios of gross rent-to-income that exceed 50% are commonplace.
Unless Long Island can expand its stock of affordable workforce housing, employers will face perpetual labor shortages and the region could face constricted economic growth.
Given the bipartisan and across the board support that this legislation enjoyed in the Assembly, it is puzzling that like measures, similarly passed by the Assembly during the last three sessions, have met a less favorable fate in the Senate.
In fact, as Matthew Crosson of the Long Island Association reports with no uncertain derision toward the measure's captors, the bill has never made it out of the Senate.
“It is time for the New York State Senate to allow an up or down vote on this bill,” said Crosson. “For the past four years, while the State Assembly has repeatedly taken action on this issue, the State Senate has not addressed the lack of affordable housing on Long Island. During that time, Long Island’s population of younger people continued to decline. In fact, Census Bureau figures show a drop of 65,000 25-44 year olds from 2000 to 2004 alone. How many more young people will leave Long Island for lack of an affordable place to live before the New York State Senate takes action on this legislation?"
While regionalism and provincial interests routinely upset the applecart in Albany, usually at the expense of us "downstaters," the Assembly's action, and its willingness to address Long Island's critical shortage of workforce housing -- not once, but four times in as many years -- leaves us baffled as to the Senate's perpetual stalling and systemic inertia on this measure.
We believe that the Long Island Workforce Housing Initiative is not only worthwhile, but vital in bringing to heel an affordable housing crisis that threatens both the economy of our Island and the ability of our sons, daughters and their children to live out the American dream on Long Island's shores.
We urge all readers of this blog to contact their State Senators, urging them to send the Senate's version of the bill -- S03966 sponsored by Senator Michael Balboni -- from the Local Government Committee to the floor of the Senate, and that the Senate act, with the fortitude and exigency demonstrated by the Assembly, in passing this measure.
Readers are also asked to contact State Senator Dean Skelos, the Senate's Deputy Majority Leader and dean of the Long Island delegation, to express dismay over the Senate's longstanding failure to demonstrate it's commitment to the future of Long Island by giving this legislation the thumbs up, and sending same to the Governor's desk for signature.
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A News12.com poll recently asked residents about their willingness to have "workforce" housing built in their backyards. The results, though unscientific, may surprise you.
Would you support workforce housing being built in your community?
Yes (138 Responses) 28%
No (371 Responses) 72%
Of course, readers of this blog would express surprise as they have been educated to understand that this "workforce" isn't the homeless, the impoverished or the illegal "day laborer" (although they all deserve a roof overhead, too), but rather, our children and grandchildren, well-educated and gainfully employed, who seek to keep (or re-establish) their roots in the community.
We also understand that "workforce housing" is not "the projects," "Section 8," or illegal basement apartments -- the "ghettoization" of community -- but rather, apartments, co-ops, condos, townhouses and, yes, even single-family homes, up to code, in close proximity to "downtown," at rents or purchase prices that those who are Long Island's workforce (and Long Island's future) can afford.
We understand because we have educated ourselves accordingly. Unfortunately, most Long Islanders have not been so enlightened, and continue to operate under the misconceptions raised and engrained whenever the terms "workforce housing" or "affordable housing" are put into play.
At The Community Alliance, we can only do so much to dispel the falsehoods held by, and to alleviate the fears that cause a creeping paralysis among, our neighbors. The rest, as is most often the case, is up to you!