Thursday, November 16, 2006

One, Two Punch For Illegal Housing

Malverne Mayor Teams With Nassau Assessor To Stem The Tide In Village

Illegal accessory apartments in single family homes. Long understood to be the bane of suburbia, and labeled by elected officials, from Albany to Hempstead Town, as a "scourge" upon community.

Eroding the tax base, overburdening local services, artificially inflating home valves (and with them, assessments), and an ever-present danger to life, limb, and property, localities have struggled over the years to find practical solutions to both the root cause (lack of affordable housing) and its entagling symptoms.

Amending code provisions and adding new ones, upping the fines, creating new "indicia" for enforcement, "nail and mail" summons service, empowering local building inspectors. Some good moves, others superfluous. And still, not so much as a dent made in the illegal apartment equivalent of the war in Iraq. Indeed, the problem worsens, and threatens to evolve into a battle celebre between homeowners who reap the benefit of renting illegally and law-abiding homeowners who have to pick up the property tax tab.

Enter Anthony Panzarella, Mayor of the Village of Malverne, and our old friend, Harvey Levinson, Chair of the Nassau County Board of Assessors, who have launched, in the Mayor's words (as told to Newsday), "the most stringent illegal housing penalties and enforcement measures on Long Island."

Combining rigid enforcement, including fines equal to double the amount of rent collected in a year, and reclassification of illegally rented single family homes as commercial properties for assessment purposes, the village hopes to gain the upper hand on the illegal housing front.

Indeed, for the first time, local authorities will work with County officials to tackle the problem, something that has been discussed in the past , ad nauseum, but never acted upon.

"I will not allow under my watch the demise of our village and the way of life that people moved here to enjoy," Mayor Panzarella told Newsday. [Actually, the Newsday article, if we read it correctly, appears to attribute the quote ro Harvey Levinson, which makes no sense. Okay, so its not the Long Island Press. :-)]

Whether this joint effort will make a difference -- or even a dent -- remains to be seen. Do keep in mind, neighboring communities (particularly you folks in unincorporated areas of the township), that water seeks its own level. Even muddy water. If they can't rent out a basement apartment in Malverne, you can be sure they'll be looking to rent in Elmont, Franklin Square, Rockville Centre and West Hempstead.

And the concurrent problem -- a major cause of the need for illegal rentals -- persists: the lack of affordable housing. This is the third prong, together with local enforcement and county reclassification, that must be forged if the illegal apartment dilemma is to be adequately and appropriately addressed on Long Island. [Folks, we need to talk "downtown," "density," and "demographics," adopting a "smart growth" approach, before all that is left of suburbia are gutted out brownfields inhabited by squatters and overrun by homeless families living out of shopping carts.]

Now is the time for other municipalities, including the Town of Hempstead, to get into the act; to join forces with the County Assessor and put some muscle behind the promise to "use every weapon in our arsenal" to end the scourge. So far, the big guns -- and even the little ones -- have been eerily silent.

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