The Hempstead Town Department of Planning and Economic Development owns two dozen properties it purchased with more than $2 million in federal community development funding, in some cases decades ago. Most of them are vacant, a Newsday review found.
Hempstead's website lists 24 properties bought with Community Development Block Grant funding in Roosevelt, Elmont and Lakeview. Eleven were acquired more than 15 years ago, and eight more than 20 years ago. In November, 17 were vacant land, one was a vacant home and another was developed. Three were inaccessible from public roadways and two could not be located.
Department Commissioner George Bakich and Deputy Commissioner Jonathan Crist did not respond to requests for comment about the land.
Town spokesman Mike Fricchione said Bakich, who was hired in 1985, is retiring on Friday.
Rebecca Sinclair, Supervisor Laura Gillen's deputy chief of staff, criticized the department's handling of the parcels.
"In my meetings with that office about their plans for the disposition of the vacant properties, while they said they intended to, they had no clear plans to do so," she said. "For us to be holding land in the midst of a housing shortage is ridiculous."
Land-use experts said it's not unusual for municipalities to own large portfolios of vacant land. They said, however, that it's more common in weak property markets.
"In a place with proximity to New York City and a lot of market strength, I would want to know why those parcels couldn't be repurposed," said Brett Theodos, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C.
Department counsel Katrina Brooks said the department is in contract with a developer on a vacant property and in contract negotiations on seven others. One will remain vacant to serve as an entrance to an adjacent park, while two are unsuitable for development, she said.
The department does not have set plans for a cluster of eight vacant properties south of East Clinton Avenue in Roosevelt that the town began acquiring in 2001, Brooks said.
Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, who represents Roosevelt, said residents should decide what is built there. She said she is not necessarily opposed to new housing, but feels Roosevelt already has too much affordable housing.
"We have an overflow of people," said Goosby, who also dismissed Sinclair's criticisms.
Planning department officials did not respond to emails about development obstacles.
Long Island Housing Partnership officials said the difficulty finding funding for affordable housing construction and Long Island's high cost of living and taxes make such projects difficult.
Environmental remediation — which Brooks said was necessary at five properties in Elmont that are the subject of contract negotiations — may also cause delays.
Residents and civic officials expressed mixed opinions about the empty lots.
"I'd rather see it vacant," said Arlynn Streithorst, who lives across from one such property in Roosevelt that the town acquired in 1988. "I like the view."
Elmont Chamber of Commerce president Paul Sapienza said he was happy the Elmont sites may soon be developed.
"We don't want to see empty properties, empty buildings," Sapienza said. "It's not conducive to a good neighborhood."
Money well spent?
24 / Properties purchased
$2M+ / Federal funding spent on properties