Thursday, October 07, 2010

Dude, Where's My Affordable Housing?

Tell Me, Where Do The Children Stay?

From the untimely demise of Avalon Bay in Huntington, to the inordinate delay in building so-called transit-oriented rentals in places like West Hempstead, the dearth of housing opportunities for Generation Next (let alone, Generation Text) is, how can we say this nicely, forcing college grads and our young workforce off Long Island. At best, the lack of affordable (a relative term, given that $1900 a month for a one-bedroom apartment in western Nassau, adjacent to an LIRR station sans weekend service, is not our idea of "affordable") housing, for purchase or rental, is forcing our children to move back with mom and dad, or to seek uneasy (and potentially unsafe) refuge in illegal basement apartments.

Recent developments (or should we say, the lack thereof) highlight the dilemma. [READ Below.]

Blame it on generation after generation of NIMBYism, the detractors of density and development, the shortsighted myopia of Zoning Boards and Town Boards, the mismanagement of the MTA, or the general inertia that seems to run through the lifeblood of Long Islanders when it comes to getting just about anything accomplished, the future of Long Island -- our children -- is moving out and moving on.

Affordable housing is not a cure-all for the plethora of conditions that ail and debilitate our Long Island. It would, however, be a great shot in the arm!
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From The Long Island Press:

Huntington Town Board Sinks AvalonBay Proposal
By Spencer Rumsey

The Huntington Town Board rejected a rezoning proposal Tuesday night in a 3-2 vote that would have created a “transit-oriented district” to allow a developer, AvalonBay Communities, to build 490 apartment units on 26 acres in Huntington Station.

Avalon Glen Cove North in Glen Cove. The Avalon Bay company wanted to build a similar development in Hungtington Station rejected the zoning needed to move the project forward Tuesday, Sept. 20.

The decision came after months of increasingly heated wrangling as opposition grew to the proposed apartment complex, and the issue became caught up in local town politics. The developer had promised to set aside at least 20 percent of the rentals for affordable housing and provide the Huntington school district with up to $1.5 million in mitigation costs to make up for an anticipated influx of new students. The item on the agenda drew hundreds of people.

Outside Town Hall protesters chanted that AvalonBay, a nationwide builder of high-end developments, was unfair to local builders by using contractors and workers from Connecticut and elsewhere. Inside Town Hall, the corridors were jammed, and voices were loud.

Opponents seemed to outnumber supporters, judging from the proliferation of their printed red-and-white signs proclaiming “Stop AvalonBay and Downsizing Huntington,” their white-washed Burger King crowns stamped with the phrase “Say no to AvalonBay,” and the many blue and red Conservative Society of America T-shirts.

The Town Board room itself was filled to capacity. The local fire marshall wouldn’t even allow AvalonBay’s attorney from the law firm Farrell Fritz to view the proceeding.

Noting the intense atmosphere, Supervisor Frank Petrone said, “Your passion speaks loud and clear.” He added, “This town could be better for all the energy this has produced.”

Councilwoman Glenda Jackson, a Democrat, noted that she’d been “appalled” at some of the “vicious comments” from opponents to the project, which she said were “over the top.”

She said that as a single parent who’d grown up in the town and had lived in Huntington Station, the project would go far in addressing the housing and economic needs of her community. But many of the opponents didn’t agree.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Petrone said before the vote was cast, “you’ve shown leadership; don’t show dividedness.”

Under the terms of the rezoning proposal, the law needed a super majority to pass.

When Democratic Councilman Mark Cuthbertson followed Republican Councilman Mark Mayoka in opposing the measure, the crowd knew the law was toast.

Democratic Councilwoman Susan Berland, who’s made no secret of her political ambitions (such as for the supervisor job, some say), had previously announced her opposition to the zoning’s high density allowance (18 units per acre).

Cuthbertson cited the school board’s rejection of the Avalon project (after voting in favor of it last year), and said that “without their good faith” he couldn’t go forward.

In the end, two Democrats and one Republican defeated the measure, and only Supervisor Petrone and Councilwoman Jackson, both Democrats, were in favor.

After the vote, Berland told the Press that she still held out hope that AvalonBay would come back to the town with a proposal for much lower density, such as 14.5 units per acre. The site now allows for 109 single-family homes.

AvalonBay had said that without the higher density zoning it wouldn’t develop in Huntington.

Supporters of the project were disappointed, to say the least, but they were not surprised because the town board had been backpedaling for months.

“Their job is to lead,” said Lisa Tyson, executive director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition. “They reacted.”
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From The New York Times:

Transit Cuts Bring Uncertainty

It was partly the Port Washington line of the Long Island Rail Road, with its direct, quick and frequent runs into Manhattan, that persuaded Scott McCabe, 28, a financial analyst working in Midtown Manhattan, to move to Port Washington from Hoboken, N.J.

Last June, he spent more than $500,000 on a four-bedroom split-level from which he could walk the mile to the station. “It’s a fantastic commute for me in terms of what our options were in the suburbs,” Mr. McCabe said.

But when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority cut off-peak service in half on the line last month, enacting schedule changes as part of budget-related cuts in Long Island Rail Road service approved in March, Mr. McCabe was concerned. Though he commutes during rush hour and was not affected, the reduction in nonpeak service to once an hour after 9 a.m. might have “put a little bit of a damper” on his decision to move, had he known it was being planned.

After all, homes in North Shore towns like Great Neck, Manhasset and Plandome along the Port Washington line carry a 15 to 30 percent premium over homes farther east and south, served by train lines that typically require a change in Jamaica, Queens.

Karen Morrison, an associate broker and manager of Accents on Real Estate in Port Washington, who is also president of the Port Washington/Manhasset Real Estate Board, described the rail line as “one of the key components to our town.”

“It’s a perfect setting if you like a small-town feeling with a 35-minute commute into Manhattan,” Ms. Morrison added. Traditionally, buyers “will pay more for less to be in these communities.”

That may change because of the transit cutbacks — which decrease midday service by 14 trains on weekdays and cut 32 trains over the weekend. Along with service cuts made elsewhere on the Island in May, the schedule alterations are part of the transportation authority’s effort to close a $900 million budget gap.

Ms. Morrison said she could well imagine a prospective buyer’s thinking, “If I am not getting that same service I was expecting, maybe I could find something less expensive in another area.”

But Susan Higgins, director of sales and an associate broker at Prudential Douglas Elliman in Manhasset, disagreed. Since the cuts are on off-peak trains, she asserted, “it’s an inconvenience for some people and they may have to alter their schedules around it.” But she said, “The draw to these communities will remain the same.”

While studies have not been done on the Island, Christopher Jones, the vice president for research of the Manhattan-based Regional Plan Association, said a study released in July looked at the effects of transit service improvements on property values in New Jersey. By inference, “it gives you an indication of how important transit service is to property values.” Over time, reduced service on both the railroad and Long Island Bus “will make communities a less desirable place to live, and that will translate into lower property values,” Mr. Jones said. Though peak-hour reductions would have a bigger impact, he added, “it doesn’t mean there is no impact when it is weekend and evening time. It is one of the amenities.”

Jan Wells, the associate director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the M.T.A., a public watchdog group, said there was “always a direct connection between transportation services and real estate values.”

She said she was hoping the service cuts would be temporary, but “in the meantime anybody looking for property where transportation is important, they will look at service.”

Budget cuts have also affected service to the railroad’s Long Beach, Montauk, Ronkonkoma, Greenport and West Hempstead branches, as well as trains to the Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn. The cuts are estimated to save about $950,000 this year and $3.8 million annually starting in 2011, according to a statement from the authority.

Since some trains to Huntington and Ronkonkoma now have extra stops to accommodate those who rode trains that have been eliminated, commutes have become longer and trains are more crowded. And as Maureen Michaels, the chairwoman of the Long Island Rail Road Commuters Council, noted, “Commuters make choices about where they are going to live based on the frequency and scheduling of trains,” and the most recent cuts “are not sitting well with commuters.”

In West Hempstead, Maria Rigopoulos, vice president of Mill Creek Residential Trust, expects construction to start this fall on the Alexan@West Hempstead, a 150-unit transit-oriented development that Mill Creek is to put up next to the West Hempstead rail station. But the Alexan will not have quite as much transit as some potential residents might like. Weekend service to the West Hempstead stop also suffered a blow.

“It’s not ideal,” Ms. Rigopoulos said, “but the weekday commuters are more important to our development.” And since the apartments are not yet built, she said, tenants won’t be missing something they once had.

Besides, demand for rentals is strong. Rosalie Norton, the president of the West Hempstead Community Support Association, which fought vigorously to get the apartment complex approved on the site of the derelict Courtesy Hotel, said that market-rate rentals were scarce in the area and that the Alexan “fills a desperate need.”

Rates at the Alexan will range from $1,900 a month, for a one-bedroom, to $2,700 for a three-bedroom. In her view the lack of weekend train service will simply mean getting to “Valley Stream or Rockville Centre or Garden City to use one of those lines.”
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  1. When you look at developments such as these, as well as the debacle that was the Town of Hempstead's disposition of the Lighthouse project, it's difficult to resist the conclusion that Long Island is fast becoming an undesirable place to live. Your question - where do the children stay? - implies a premise that they would WANT to stay here at all. And yet, when you look at the costs versus the benefits of living here, why would they? Yeah, we have nice beaches and nice parks and I guess pretty good schools. But you can get a lot of those things elsewhere in the country and at a much lower cost. Add to this the fact that companies that want to engage in the kind of economic development needed to create new job opportunities, consistently encounter resistance from local government - all in the name of "preserving our suburban way of life" of course - and it all adds up to a compelling case for leaving Long Island, not staying.

    It's a shame. I have one kid in college and another finishing high school. Frankly, when they get finished with school and they're ready to start their lives, I don't know how they could possibly live here and expect to have a decent quality of life.

  2. There appears to be a struggle taking place on Long Island right now regarding future development here between the vision of Long Island of people in their 50's and '60's, and the vision of their children. Who wins this struggle will affect the coarse this island takes for a generation or more.

    For Long Island's sake, I'm rooting for the children as the vision of the older generation is the one we have now, sprawl, high taxes, and boredom.