Long Island nonprofit ERASE Racism has created a mapping tool that allows users to identify "high-opportunity" areas that might make prime candidates for affordable housing.
The tool evaluates how suitable areas are for affordable housing, using data on financial stability, health outcomes, housing and school district quality.
The online mapping tool covers all of New York State, enabling users to analyze data by county, town, school district and census tract. ERASE Racism, a Syosset-based civil rights organization, said it hopes the tool will help inform discussions about development as New York faces a housing affordability crisis.
“When affordable housing is built, it’s normally built in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods, which increases economic and racial segregation,” said Olivia Ildefonso, a research consultant to ERASE Racism who developed the tool with its president, Laura Harding.
WHAT TO KNOW
- The nonprofit ERASE Racism released a map that identifies areas it said would make prime candidates for affordable housing, using data from the U.S. Census and state Education Department.
- The map highlights financially stable areas with strong school districts that have the resources to take on more students, said Laura Harding, president of the nonprofit.
- Local leaders in housing and education said the tool will inform the housing debate on Long Island but overlooks major obstacles, such as zoning rules and environmental concerns.
“We’re really trying to advocate for more affordable housing and more inclusive housing all over New York State and Long Island, not just always in the same neighborhoods," said Ildefonso, who has a doctorate in Earth and environmental sciences from the CUNY Graduate Center. Her dissertation focused on the history of the public education system in the U.S. and how it reproduces social inequities.
Skeptics said the map leaves out key context about the reasons why housing hasn't been developed in certain areas, including zoning rules, infrastructure issues and environmental concerns.
Grading neighborhoods and schools
The new tool uses 30 measures, including health characteristics, such as life expectancy and percentage of the population with health insurance; financial characteristics, such as median income, employment rate and the percentage living above the poverty rate; and housing data, such as the percentage of people who pay a high percentage of their income toward rent.
The map’s Neighborhood Opportunity Index, which focuses on financial stability, health and housing, identified Lloyd Harbor and parts of Commack and East Setauket as showing the greatest opportunity for housing on Long Island.
ERASE Racism’s Education Opportunity Index, which is separately broken out by school systems, showed the North Shore, East Williston, Merrick, Cold Spring Harbor, Shoreham-Wading River, Quogue and Amagansett districts have the highest opportunity for housing. That rating reflects areas with fewer economically disadvantaged students, better performance on standardized tests and higher spending per pupil, among other measures.
The tool allows users to search specific addresses, see which areas of Long Island are the most and least racially diverse and view where subsidized housing was previously built.
It also provides data on changes in student enrollment between 2016 and 2021. Cold Spring Harbor schools, for example, saw a 12% decline in enrollment during the five-year span.
Areas with strong school districts that have seen enrollment fall make good candidates for new housing, Harding said.
"These are some places, which ended up usually to be predominantly white communities on Long Island and across New York State, that can stand to take more people — both from a housing perspective and a schoolwide perspective — and not see a loss in services or a derogatory, negative impact on housing and education," she said. "We should be looking at building affordable housing here."
The high cost of housing
Long Islanders are facing record home prices, and more than half of local renters spend at least 30% of their income on rent. A large majority say they want more housing options, according to a nextLI/Newsday poll of 2,910 local residents conducted last year. But there was less consensus on the types of housing Long Islanders would like to see built, with a majority saying they would like to see less "dense housing" built.
Gov. Kathy Hochul made affordable housing a key part of her executive budget this year, proposing to increase the number of housing units in New York State by 800,000 over 10 years. But the proposal didn't make it into the final budget. It faced significant opposition from suburban lawmakers, including Long Island Republicans, who said it represented an overreach by the state into local zoning decisions.
The latest effort from ERASE Racism builds upon its previous work that showed student enrollment declined 12% on Long Island from 2007 to 2022. However, enrollment grew by 34% in the 11 Long Island school districts where students of color represent 90% of students.
“Segregation that concentrates all the high-needs students in the same school districts places a financial strain on these districts,” Ildefonso said.
Kevin Scanlon, superintendent of the Three Village Central School District, which serves Stony Brook and surrounding communities and was highlighted as a high-opportunity area, said he believes the district can absorb some additional students, but increasing enrollment could require more staffing. He noted the district’s students have become more diverse in the past decade, with its Asian population rising to 13% of students, from 9%, and its Hispanic/Latino students increasing to 9%, from 4%.
“Declining enrollment does not necessarily mean that any district has the capacity to take on new students,” he said. “Some districts have reduced their staffing based on declining enrollment. Adding students may require additional staffing, which would also mean an increase to the budget.”
He said the state’s 2% cap on annual increases to the property tax levy for school districts might require examining other potential cuts if spending were to increase.
While the map identifies areas of opportunity, it doesn’t address some of the key obstacles to housing development, including zoning rules that prohibit multifamily housing or require large lot sizes. Other areas lack the needed sewers to accommodate development or have been preserved because of environmental concerns, said Richard Murdocco, an adjunct professor of economic development and planning at Stony Brook University.
“Tools like this are not a three-dimensional solution to a three-dimensional problem,” Murdocco said. “… What it lacks is the nuance of why denser housing wasn’t put there in the first place.”
Murdocco noted that areas such as Bay Shore, which are in high-risk flood zones, are described as opportunity areas, while areas that include shopping malls that could be redeveloped for housing, including Lake Grove and Hicksville, aren’t highlighted.
David Gallo, co-founder and president of affordable housing developer Georgica Green Ventures, said he sees the tool as useful because it aggregates data in one place. He believes it will be helpful to community members as they consider housing proposals.
“Affordable housing has a place in all communities,” Gallo said. “Diversity of race, diversity of income, diversity of age, make our communities better and our children smarter.”
While Gallo said he couldn’t comment specifically on the high-opportunity areas identified on the map, he noted Georgica Green has had success building affordable housing developments on Long Island in high-income areas, including East Hampton, Roslyn Heights and Southampton.
“Everyone said we couldn’t do affordable housing in Southampton. ‘That’s impossible. The land costs are too high. There’s no sewers.’ But we were able to, and we’ve done two [projects] and we’ve done two in East Hampton,” Gallo said. “So, I never want to say it can’t happen in any community.”
Ian Wilder, executive director of Long Island Housing Services, said the tool will supply data for discussions about housing development on Long Island and could be used by people searching for housing, town planners and advocacy groups.
“We have any number of communities on Long Island that have great school districts, really good business opportunities, great neighborhoods, great shopping," Wilder said, "but the question is, does everybody have access to those?”
With Craig Schneider
Explore the map
Use the "County" filter to focus on Nassau and/or Suffolk areas, Zoom/pan tools or address search (tap on the magnifying glass) to explore the data. Click on a specific area to get more information.
Clarification: This article has been updated to reflect ERASE Racism's addition of the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District to the districts that received the highest score in its Education Opportunity Index.