Sanford Bland and Bettie Thomas lived together in an apartment a 5-mile drive from the Wyandanch Long Island Rail Road stop. Then they heard about Wyandanch Village, a development going up near the station.
"I watched them build it and I thought it'd be a good idea," Thomas, 71, said of the development they moved into in 2015. "With the way it's set up, it's very convenient."
While houses are part of many Long Islanders' American dreams, a growing number are opting for apartments in new transit-oriented developments (TODs) in downtown areas, while some opt for older buildings.
From millennials to the elderly, remote workers to retirees, those who aren't ready for homeownership to those who have had enough of it, a new generation of renters is calling these hubs home, spurring a kind of railroad rental renaissance in a more walkable world.
"Retirees want to be there, because they don't have to do the upkeep of the house and the yard and they can be within walking distance of restaurants," said Eric Alexander, director of Northport-based Vision Long Island. "There's the electricity of being near food options, hopping on the train."
These buildings typically provide amenities, access to communal spaces and proximity to bustling downtowns as well as a short walk to the train, without the burdens — or benefits — of ownership.
"Most downtowns have a lot of food options," said Alexander. "And there is access to commerce in New York City, commuting and recreation. Some people are environmentally minded and use mass transit that way."
Alexander said 40 developers have built at least one TOD project on Long Island, sometimes with units billed as "affordable" to get construction subsidies. He said those units usually range from as low as under $1,500 a month to $5,000 and more.
"Typically the train stations were built around downtowns," said Kelley Heck, executive vice president and partner at TRITEC Real Estate, which developed TODs in Ronkonkoma, Bay Shore, Lindenhurst and Patchogue, 1,500 feet from the Patchogue train station. "You can hop on a train and go to a show or a game."
Remote (work) control near the LIRR
I'm not looking for the responsibilities and bills of a full house right now. I think it's wonderful to have everything taken care of.
— Emma Henderson
Emma Henderson, 29, a resident of The Hills at Port Jefferson Village, in Port Jefferson, moved from Manorville farther east last year. A marketing director, she's a four-minute walk from the LIRR station ("I can see it from my balcony.") and rides the Port Jefferson Ferry about once a month to work in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
"I work remote," she said. "This location is close to a lively downtown and far enough away, so I can be away from the noise."
Because she lives near, but not in, a downtown, she sees herself as having the best of both worlds. She can have peace and quiet while enjoying nearby restaurants and other businesses. With the LIRR close by, she takes the train to concerts at Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center and museums.
"I'm not looking for the responsibilities and bills of a full house right now. I think it's wonderful to have everything taken care of," she said. "I can go to the city for a concert easily. I can go down to the port. But I get the luxury of it being quiet and secluded."
She likes the building, which she said is home to many Stony Brook University medical students, and features new appliances, a large walk-in closet, communal spaces with a fire pit, barbecues and patio. Monthly rent for a one-bedroom is listed from $2,400 to $2,600. Henderson also enjoys being in walking distance to Texaco Avenue Park.
"It's a stone's throw away," Henderson said. "There are picnic tables and a swing set."
"I'm a big runner," she added. "I usually run down to the water every morning and back to the apartment. It's a nice loop."
Renting instead of owning a home
With the inventory being so low, it's been difficult to find a home to purchase. Alston has been a comfortable and enjoyable home for us that met our lifestyle.
— Mike Tewes
Mike Tewes, 52, and his family moved into a three-bedroom, two-bathroom unit in Alston Station Yards in Ronkonkoma as a temporary solution in June 2021. More than two years later, they're still enjoying the lifestyle and plan to stay through September, when their lease ends.
"The apartments and the community spaces are luxurious and modern, clean, well-maintained," Tewes said. "We like that we have access to two gyms and grill areas."
They can entertain, using communal spaces and amenities that give them as well as visitors an added place to spend time. "We enjoy having friends over to use the pool, the fire pit lounges and the indoor lounges," he said. "During the winter, it gets us out of the apartment."
The chief information security officer for a financial institution, he moved from Smithtown with his family of four, including fiancee Rebecca Livingston, 47. He commutes to New York City, making the nearby train a big plus.
They "enjoy access to the East End," including Greenport and Montauk, and are minutes from the Long Island Expressway and Long Island MacArthur Airport. "We like to travel to Orlando," he said. "We have other family in other parts of Florida."
Monthly rent for Alston Station Yards units on the market range from about $2,500 for a one-bed to $4,000 for a three-bed, according to TRITEC, which developed it.
"It's a rental community and we'd like to have ownership somewhere," Tewes said. "With the inventory being so low, it's been difficult to find a home to purchase. Alston has been a comfortable and enjoyable home for us that met our lifestyle."
Retirees finding community
I just didn't want to own anything anymore. Moving into an apartment, you don't have to take care of anything.
— Natalie Eichele
Natalie Eichele, 72, a retired nurse who works as an adjunct at the New York Institute of Technology teaching clinical nursing, didn’t travel far, but in other ways lives a world away from her previous home.
After her husband died last year, she moved from the Mineola Cape she lived in for 48 years into an apartment in the same community in January. She has three children, Andrew, 44, and Steven, 42, who both live in Levittown; and Cynthia, 28, in Maryland.
"The house was too big," she said. "I stayed local. I didn't know where to go for an apartment. Then I found the Allure."
She downsized and now lives two blocks from the train in the Allure Mineola, parking in the building's garage. "It's probably one of the more convenient buildings in Mineola," she said. "You can walk anyplace."
After owning a house for much of her life, she said she was ready to rent, paying about $3,100 a month.
"I just didn't want to own anything anymore," she said. "Moving into an apartment, you don't have to take care of anything."
Eichele likes her fifth-floor apartment with one traditional bedroom plus a loft bedroom and numerous closets in a building with a gym, outdoor pool, community room and a golf simulation room.
She enjoys being near restaurants and having a sense of community and company rather than the isolation of living alone in a house.
"I've met some of the neighbors. I meet a lot of people on the elevator," she said. "I see a lot of people and I get to know some people."
She likes being close, but distant enough not to hear, the train. "Every once in a while, I might hear a siren from the hospital, but I don't even hear traffic," she said.
Traditional apartment living near the LIRR
Buying a house for a single person is essentially out of the question. It's not necessarily practical.
— Neal Lewis
For people who are single like Neal Lewis, renting an apartment near a train station with stores and restaurants nearby makes sense. Being in the thick of things is a big plus.
"Buying a house for a single person is essentially out of the question," said Lewis, 60, executive director of Molloy University's Sustainability Institute. "It's not necessarily practical."
Living in a downtown, such as Massapequa, has advantages including coffee shops and stores (he's above a hair salon and across from an ice cream parlor) within walking distance.
"There's a sense of vibrancy," Lewis said. "That adds atmosphere and energy. As a single person, that has advantages."
The area isn't particularly noisy, but there are beeping trucks, and a bar used to leave the door open while live music played.
"They don't seem to be doing that anymore," Lewis said. "It's just regular bar activity, which isn't that loud."
When you're older, you don't want to struggle to go places you have to go. I can get anywhere I want to go on this Island from this hub.
— Sanford Bland
Retirees like Bland, 75, and Thomas, 71, like living in an apartment near the Wyandanch train station with a world within walking distance.
"This is a great place for retirement. Everything is convenient. When you're older, you don't want to struggle to go places you have to go," said Bland, who, in 2006, retired from commercial printing. "I can get anywhere I want to go on this Island from this hub."
Bland appreciates being able to take the train to Manhattan, because "it doesn't matter how late I come home, I'm right here."
Their third-floor apartment has a of greenery in a development with a community room and fitness center near a supermarket and banks.
"It's a way of having a community environment and a country-like atmosphere with the openness of it all," said Thomas, who retired from the New York State Office of Mental Health in 2010. "It's good for your mental state."
The couple say it's a quiet location without interruptions or the rattle of trains. "When you close the windows, you can barely hear anything," Thomas said. "We had a thunderstorm, I didn't even know we had it until I woke up in the morning."
They are near a park that offers winter ice skating and long walks with their shih-tzu in warmer weather.
"We can sit in the park. It's spacious," Bland said. "It's a suburban feel, but if you want to be cosmopolitan, you can."
Has East Side Access made a difference?
The opening of Grand Central Madison provided ease of access to Manhattan's East Side for Long Islanders for both work and pleasure. That also made the Long Island Rail Road-adjacent residences more appealing to some.
"I work in the city three days a week, a hybrid work model. It's very manageable," Tewes said of his hour-and-20-minute commute. "Grand Central's much closer to my office."
Bland and Thomas are a little over an hour from New York City, which Bland said is more accessible due to East Side access. "Grand Central Madison makes it even better," he said. "Now I can go to the East Side or the West Side with no hassle."
While new developments typically have amenities, Neal Lewis enjoys being in a traditional downtown apartment, parking on the street. He takes the train to Grand Central Madison typically for pleasure.
"I do a lot of salsa dancing," Lewis said. "New York City is a world leader when it comes to salsa dancing."
Still, Eric Alexander downplayed the impact East Side access has had on transit-oriented development. "East Side Access does not seem to be a top factor," he said. "Walking to local restaurants, bars, services, downtown parks and events are a high priority along with commuting to Manhattan as needed."
Heck said Grand Central Madison is a kind of cherry on a cake, noting it may not be the main reason some people seek out a TOD, but can help.
"It's the walkability of your downtown with the added benefit of having the train nearby," she said. "We have a gamut of age groups. They want to be able to walk out, grab a coffee in town, grab a beer in town."