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From Sustainable Long Island - October 30, 2009

Housing Alternatives Would Benefit All

Housing on Long Island represents a microcosm of all the problems Long Island needs to address – from economic and social equity, smart growth, zoning challenges, and how to make fragmented government work better, inspire community action, and ensure that opportunity is more fairly distributed and readily accessible.

Long Island is made up of two highly distinguishable sets of communities. Among the dissimilarities, communities that have thriving, walkable downtowns with built-in economic opportunities, transportation options, financial services, medical care and pharmacies and a high quality of life, and communities that instead have vacant storefronts, safety challenges, or nothing at all; communities whose children learn and grow at highly reputable schools and those whose children attend schools that regularly receive negative media attention and require state intervention; communities with parks and beaches and communities with an overabundance of brownfields; communities with supermarkets and farmers markets and communities with nothing but junk-food delis; and communities with few housing options and communities with excessive designated affordable housing.

Traditionally, affordable housing has gone into lower-income communities on Long Island; communities where opportunity is limited. What is really desired is community and economic development— the ability to acquire decent jobs close to home, send children to quality schools and advance to homeownership in a community you have grown to call home. What our region needs is a much more equitable distribution of both affordable housing and community and economic development, spreading opportunity more equitably.

Affordable housing is an issue for all families to consider as next generations cannot afford to live here and are fleeing the region at a rampant rate. According to the 2008 Long Island Index, 88 percent of Long Islanders consider the lack of affordable housing a serious problem.

For years, there has been discussion as well as proposed legislation that would require the development of affordable housing in all communities. Yet, to date Long Island has failed to adequately address this issue.

But we are on the verge of change. It’s thrilling to see the progress our neighbors in Westchester and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are making.

In August, HUD and Westchester County came to a landmark agreement regarding the placement of affordable housing in more exclusive communities that have not received their share of affordable housing units. Westchester County, like Long Island, is home to some of the least diverse communities in the nation. This agreement will promote the equitable distribution of affordable housing and more inclusive communities.

Sustainable Long Island welcomes this policy shift undertaken by HUD and supports a similar measure for Long Island, a region that has been no stranger to affordable housing debates.

Long Island today is a patchwork of isolated pockets of opportunity. The way we see it, every community could benefit from diverse housing options. Benefits of housing alternatives include increased demand for goods and services which in turn provides increased local employment opportunities; it meets the needs of the growing number of smaller households and provides a way for people to remain in areas in which they have lived for a long time, and to live close to their support networks. It’s a way to create a 21st Century suburb, where young people want to stay; where communities are integrated; where job opportunities, shopping and transportation alternatives are easily reached.