Settling a decadelong housing discrimination lawsuit has revitalized the push for affordable rentals in Huntington.
The town's need -- as in other communities around Long Island -- is particularly acute for affordable rental apartments sought by young professionals and families, demographic experts and advocates say.
"This is not just a nice thing to do," said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University. "There's an economic imperative here if you want to retain the workers and prosperous retirees in the region."
Settling the lawsuit filed against the Town of Huntington by the local chapter of the NAACP in February allows for the development of 117 affordable for-sale units on Ruland Road in Melville. Since then, the developer, Peter Florey of Levittown, said he has been working to secure financing and finalize the site plan approval with the town, and hopes to start construction in November.
The agreement included a cooperative approach in which there is no mortgage or other type of financing required, but it didn't "resolve the underlying prejudices against affordable rentals," said Richard Koubek, president of the Huntington Township Housing Coalition, an affordable housing advocacy group.
"The demographics are clear. Young people are leaving in part because we don't have affordable rentals," he said. "And we won't have them until homeowners remember they too were once renters."
The coalition is starting a campaign to dispel prejudices against apartment developments and rentals. The effort is designed to "inform homeowners that the future of their property values and the future of the integrity of their families" depends on having affordable rentals on Long Island.
Fears about demand
"We want young people to buy our homes when the time comes to sell them . . . " Koubek said. "At the rate they are leaving, we are going to see the demand for our homes decline."
Opponents and skeptics of affordable rentals said they are worried about the cost -- especially the potential for increased taxes.
Sheila Saks, former president of the House Beautiful Civic Association in Dix Hills, which advocates for homeowners, said she fears longtime homeowners will end up paying the school taxes for children who live in the affordable rentals.
"I have no problem with affordable housing. I have a problem paying for affordable housing," she said.
Saks said she had supported having studio and one-bedroom for-sale units at Ruland Road to keep young adults on Long Island.
The criteria for "affordable" units in Huntington is considered $993-per-month rent for a one-bedroom apartment, $1,192 for a two-bedroom and $1,651 for a three-bedroom, according to Koubek's organization.
Federal standards for "fair market rate" in Nassau and Suffolk counties are $1,309-per-month rent for a one-bedroom rental, $1,613 for a two-bedroom and $2,097 for a three-bedroom, according to the Community Development Corp. of Long Island.
Renter-occupied units accounted for 16.1 percent of Huntington's overall housing stock -- up from 14.7 percent in 2000, according to the 2010 U.S. Census -- lower percentages than in other towns and both counties.
Advocates and demographers say affordable rentals are needed across Long Island and are vital to the health and future of the area's economy.
In Patchogue, rental apartments opened for residents this year, with developers reporting a high number of applications. In Wyandanch, about 1,500 people expressed interest in the 177 apartments being built as part of the Wyandanch Rising redevelopment.
The most recent affordable units approved by the Town of Huntington are part of the 379-unit AvalonBay project in Huntington Station, which was initially proposed for 490 units. It includes 43 one-, two- and three-bedroom rental apartments. A lottery was held to pick residents for the units -- 489 people registered for the selection.
No other affordable rental projects have been proposed, Supervisor Frank Petrone said, acknowledging that the town needs "a full menu of housing, no question about that."
The AvalonBay project was first proposed in 2008 and rejected by the town board in 2010 after heated public opposition to the original scale of the project. The developer in 2011 resubmitted and won approval for the smaller plan.
The project polarized residents for years, but slowly gained public approval after its size was reduced. It opened for residents in January.
Susan Lagville, executive director of Housing Help in Greenlawn, said she's "cautiously optimistic" about the completion of the Ruland Road project.
"We have seen too many times in past where the town supposedly has signed and been in support, and they withdraw support," she said.
Housing Help has promoted an affordable housing project in East Northport for more than three decades. The Matinecock Court plan calls for 146 multibedroom units -- half affordable rentals, half for-sale units. Lagville said she hopes to have shovels in the ground in two years.
"There is a fight with every development that is proposed because there is such a negative perception about affordable housing," she said. "I think that they have to look at the developments that have already been built and that they have been successful."