Shifting demographics and employment trends are creating major new housing and transportation needs on Long Island, Mitch Pally says. He is chief executive of the Long Island Builders Institute in Islandia and serves as the Suffolk County representative on the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, giving him a unique view of the interrelated issues.
As companies recruit talent from Brooklyn and Queens, commuting trends are beginning to reverse from the crush of traffic going westward in the mornings toward Manhattan, said Pally, 63. And as people get married later in life and look to drive less, there is more demand for apartments near train stations.
"It's essential that the non-real-estate business community support these type of projects because they are being done for their benefit," he said. "They have their businesses here, they need employees, and those employees have to live someplace on Long Island."
On May 21 Pally will moderate a panel on "How to Revitalize Long Island's Economy" for the HIA-LI's annual trade show at Suffolk Community College in Brentwood.
What's driving these lifestyle changes?
Especially in the last 10 years, people are not getting married at 22, they're getting married at 32. They are having children later, they are having fewer children. The diversity of our population continues to increase. And that puts pressure on the housing stock. They don't want a single-family home now. They may want one when they get to 35. And they don't really want a car; they want the ability to get on a train. I wouldn't call it 'urbanism,' but I would call it 'new suburbanism,' because it's a combination of suburban and urban lifestyle.
If we don't provide the housing option now for [young people] to be able to live on Long Island in the type of housing they want, they won't be here five to 10 years from now to buy your house.
What areas will see the greatest demand for more trains?
We obviously have demand now for reverse commuting. As the innovation economy on Long Island expands, that's going to be our future. The question is, Where are we going to get the workers for those types of jobs? Some of them will live on Long Island, and obviously, for them, intra- island commuting is essential, but in addition to that, reverse commuting -- bringing the workforce in from Brooklyn and Queens, where many young people now live -- is as important. That is a very difficult thing for us to do during peak hours because most of the trains are going westbound to the city.
Where are new housing projects underway?
Farmingdale has a number of projects, one of which just opened; Wyandanch will open shortly, Ronkonkoma is moving forward, there are projects in Port Jefferson, which has the advantage of being near Stony Brook University. Valley Stream just had a new project, Baldwin has options, we're all hoping at some point Hicksville might be an opportunity, and Mineola is expanding dramatically with regard to housing. Most [projects] tend to be right along the railroads or near the railroads, and of course, then you have the largest project on the Island, which is continuing to move forward: Heartland in Brentwood.
You serve on the boards of the Nassau and Suffolk Workforce Housing commissions. What are their goals?
Suffolk's goal is to provide the infrastructure necessary to build the housing, [such as] sewage treatment plants and sewer extensions in certain areas. Then communities can rezone the properties for multifamily housing, then you can build such housing. There are many places where it cannot happen; the infrastructure is not available. Downtown Smithtown is a perfect example, Kings Park, the Mastic-Shirley area does not have sewers; they are looking for a major sewer enhancement there.
What's the solution for workforce housing on Long Island?
People need to say, 'OK, what can we do in our local community that will help solve the problem?' Because the solution in each community is different, but everybody can help. And the goal is to try to get all the different communities to understand they are part of a larger region.
How are attitudes changing?
I think finally, Long Islanders are beginning to realize that having retail on the first floor and apartments on the second floor is the way to go.
In the last recession, the luxury housing market fared well. What's going on with it now?
There's no question that the luxury market continues to prosper. You go out on the East End or you go into the North Shore of Nassau County, which are the two major luxury markets, and you can see they continue to prosper because there are still some people with a lot of money. And they want to put that money into a house, whether it's their primary residence or a secondary residence.
Is the Hamptons going to be completely taken over by multimillion-dollar homes?
Unless our local governments out on the East End figure out a way to complement the luxury market with market-rate housing and workforce housing, which is essential for the demographics out there, for the teachers and the police and the firefighters and the nurses.
Will we see more senior housing?
Senior housing has been a tremendous niche on the Island, a strong part of the Long Island housing market and will continue to be. And whether that's in downtown areas or in other areas, wherever the land and the zoning allows, and the infrastructure allows, it will be built and continue to be built. But we have to make sure that we not only do senior housing. We have to complement that with housing for young people.
How about converting Long Island's zombie houses to affordable housing?
Until you untangle the tremendously complex foreclosure laws in the state of New York, you're never going to be able to reuse all those houses. In most cases they have been neglected for such a lengthy period of time that nobody wants to live there. Which means you have to retrofit and fix it up. To do that you have to bring it up to code, which is fine as long as you knew you were going to get your money back.