Long Islanders' housing costs have risen by 24% since 2000 even as median household income has fallen by 1.6%, according to a new report that recommends building up the region's downtowns and allowing more housing options.
Nearly 6 in 10 renters and more than one in three homeowners on Long Island shell out more than 30% of their income for rent and utilities or homeownership costs such as mortgage, property taxes and insurance, the Manhattan-based nonprofit planning and advocacy group Regional Plan Association said in a report released Wednesday. The report, at nwsdy.li/RPA, includes detailed profiles of Long Island’s 13 towns, two cities and 96 villages, as well as 85 of the region’s largest unincorporated areas.
Long Islanders’ median household income of $103,331 has dipped by 1.6% since 2000 after adjusting for inflation, according to the report. Over the same period, the region’s median cost of housing — for renters and homeowners combined — has risen by 24% to $2,177 a month.
Low-income communities are especially likely to bear heavy housing cost burdens, the report found. For instance, in Mastic, Roosevelt, Wyandanch and North Amityville, about 6 in 10 homeowners put at least 30% of their income — the maximum recommended by many financial advisers — toward housing.
Long Island, considered the birthplace of the American suburbs, is made up overwhelmingly of single-family homes, with multifamily housing making up 17.5% of its housing stock, the report found.
The region needs more multifamily housing to meet the needs of young adults, seniors and people with low incomes, said Ellis Calvin, data research manager at the Regional Plan Association, whose board includes prominent developers, attorneys, professors and corporate executives.
By 2040, Long Island’s population of seniors is expected to grow by 40% and its under-35 population could shrink by 13%, the report found.
"Communities need different types of housing not only for different types of households, but different stages in the household life cycle," Calvin said. "A young couple would need different housing than a family of five, which needs different types of housing than a senior living on their own."
Without more of a mix, he said, the housing market "only allows for certain types of people to live in those communities. And so you lack that diversity that allows for more vibrant communities."
In addition, he said, the COVID-19 pandemic has "accelerated or heightened the stressors that were already there."
Long Island can increase its supply of housing and bring down costs by rezoning to let homeowners rent out units in their homes and to allow more multifamily construction near downtown train stations, he said.
The region's costly rents make it difficult for some families to meet their basic needs.
Peggy Perkins, 37, shares a 1-bedroom apartment in Hempstead with her three children, ages 8 to 17. She is a licensed cosmetologist but the hair salon where she used to work closed during the COVID-19 shutdown, and she has not been able to find work. Her rent has risen from $1,200 to $1,336 over eight years, and she said it's about to go up again. Meanwhile, her food stamp allotment has been reduced and she has fallen behind on payments for internet service, which her children need for remote schooling.
"It’s a struggle all the way around," she said. "Trying to make ends meet is really, really, really complicated."
Long Island's homeowners also feel the strain of the region's high housing costs.
Nicole Gerberg, a Long Island native who lives in Lloyd Neck with her husband, Bruce, and their six children, ages 13 to 20, said the region’s high housing costs were among the factors the family weighed when Bruce, a pediatrician with a long-standing practice in Huntington, was offered a job in North Carolina.
"I still believe that Huntington is perfection, it is a wonderful community filled with amazing people," said Gerberg, 48. "But it's just too expensive."
She said her husband has been working six or seven days a week on Long Island. In North Carolina, he’ll be able to work three 12-hour shifts a week due to the lower cost of living. It’s "a bittersweet move," she said, but in North Carolina they’re purchasing a newly built home for significantly less than the value of the Long Island home they're selling.
"We feel very strongly about making memories instead of making deposits," she said. "And we feel like our quality of life will be better living where the cost of living is significantly less."
Low interest rates and the metropolitan area's strong economy over the last decade have been driving up home prices on Long Island and elsewhere in the region, said Jonathan Miller, president and CEO of Manhattan-based appraisal company Miller Samuel.
Local planners need to "think differently" about housing, Miller said. "To attract the best workforce and to build economic growth, housing has to be affordable, and that is a challenge," he said.
And while homeowners sometimes worry that denser, less costly housing will reduce home values, he said, "as a general rule, that is not supported by the data."
Amy Girimonti, a broker with Prime Properties Long Island in Huntington, said that housing costs have been rising for several years, but the shortage of listings during the pandemic has been further driving up prices.
"For first-time homebuyers, they put multiple offers in on multiple homes at a time, hoping to come out on top," she said. Plus, she noted, "The cost of renting has gone up significantly."
Girimonti said she believes Long Island’s local governments should allow homeowners to rent out units, as long as they’re up to code: "If it can help with the cost of living on Long Island ... that should be an option."