Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has worked as a reporter, an editor, newsroom administrator and editorial writer. Show More

Rental housing? In middle-class Nassau County? Yes, it's happening. And not just because a variety of villages, working on small projects, are getting it done.

County Executive Edward Mangano -- turning more than three decades of surefire local Republican campaign strategy on its head -- is getting rental housing built, too.

And, as hundreds of planners, public officials and others discovered at a Vision Long Island Smart Growth Summit breakfast on Friday, Mangano's not afraid to talk about what he is doing. Or why.

"Clearly there is a rental housing crisis here on the Island and it is certainly necessary to support our local economy, our local businesses," Mangano said. "It also is very important to provide housing options for our young adults who want these rental opportunities."

And Mangano's done more than talk. He's pushed incentives to allow construction of rental housing near some train stations. And introduced a program to convert vacant county office buildings into apartments.

Four conversions are underway: two in Mineola, along with one each in Great Neck and Farmingdale. Together, Mangano said, they will create more than 850 rental units.

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In addition, Nassau, using federal Housing and Urban Development grants, is studying potential rental housing opportunities in Valley Stream, Lynbrook and Baldwin.

And there are still more potential projects in the pipeline, in such communities as Roslyn and Farmingdale -- which last week broke ground on a separate rental development.

Community response?

"I am getting great feedback," Mangano told the crowd. "These projects are working because many parents want their kids out of the house but they don't want them out of Nassau County . . . so it really is being embraced."

But how did Mangano, an Oyster Bay Republican who rose through the traditional Hempstead Town-centered county GOP ranks, come to embrace a notion his party branded as anathema?

"I came to it through experience in the private sector," Mangano said, "working with AvalonBay" -- which has developed rental housing in a variety of Long Island communities.

Mangano, who handily won re-election earlier this month, noted that he isn't the only Nassau Republican who has changed the party view on the subject. "I think there are many other people in my party who do share the same desire to create this housing," he said. "Many colleagues now are modifying their opinions because it works for everyone."

Nassau needs economic development, along with high-paying jobs and a supply of young people to work in them. So, Mangano said, it is good policy for Nassau to aid development of rental housing where opportunities exist and where it makes sense.

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"Our transit hubs had become eyesores that needed a solution," Mangano said. "This solution works because it solves a lot of problems, addresses a lot of issues."

And what of the future, for communities in Nassau -- and especially Suffolk, where too many town officials continue to balk at the necessity of diversifying the region's single-housing stock? Officials in Huntington, Riverhead and Southampton are grappling with the issue right now.

"As more units are built, and become successful, other communities will embrace these projects," Mangano said. "And we can perhaps get them to some of the areas that traditionally have been not receptive to rental housing."

Mangano's efforts, some might be surprised to learn, are not isolated.

At one point during the breakfast -- at my behest, as panel moderator -- a Syosset High School senior tabulated the number of rental housing units in Farmingdale, Glen Cove, Westbury, Hempstead Town and Hempstead Village, Babylon, Riverhead, Brookhaven, Southampton and Islip planned, built or under construction.

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The tally was more than 10,600 -- in a region where seven years ago that number was in the hundreds. With those efforts, rental housing won't signal an end to Long Island. It could, in fact -- as Mangano noted -- seed a new beginning.