The West 130 apartment building in West Hempstead opened in...

The West 130 apartment building in West Hempstead opened in 2012 and in September 2013 offered rental units starting at $2,150 per month. Credit: Handout

Nearly every national housing and population trend points to an increased demand for rental living. Younger adults are seeking out the lifestyle that downtown areas provide and baby boomers are downsizing as they reach retirement. Yet Long Island is woefully unprepared to meet these needs, according to a report released this week by the Regional Plan Association, a research and advocacy organization.

Consider that since peaking at 69.2 percent during the fourth quarter of 2004, the national home ownership rate has fallen to 65.0 percent, according to the most recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. By the same token, despite a significant net gain in rental units nationwide -- a 17.4 percent increase since the end of 2004 (about 6.5 million more units) -- the national vacancy rate has fallen nearly 20 percent to 8.2 since 2004.

But the Regional Plan Association found Long Island's vacancy rate to be just 4.3 percent, leaving an average of one rental unit available for every 107 households in Nassau and Suffolk counties. By comparison, similar New York-area suburbs, such as northern New Jersey, the Hudson Valley and southwestern Connecticut, have an average of one rental available for every 42 households.

Worse, Long Island rentals are prohibitively expensive (most local renters spend at least 30 percent of their income on housing) and are concentrated in only a handful of the area’s many diverse communities, the RPA said. Moreover, little new housing is coming down the pipeline to alleviate the problem. About 17 new rental units were built on Long Island for every 1,000 residents between 2000 and 2011, compared to an average of more than 26 for the rest of the region, excluding New York City.

“For Long Island to compete for tomorrow’s workers, it will need to keep up with Westchester, New Jersey and Connecticut, as well as regions across the U.S., in providing affordable rental homes,” Christopher Jones, vice president for research at Regional Plan Association, said in a statement.

Because the need for rental housing is projected to grow, the report, commissioned by the Long Island Community Foundation with a grant from the Ford Foundation, concluded by recommending policies that local leaders could support to increase rental housing. For example, it suggests funneling state investments into town centers that can support multifamily rental homes, implementing creative zoning policies that encourage multifamily development and allowing lawful accessory apartments.  

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