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Babylon Town IDA adopts affordable housing tax policy

The Babylon Industrial Development Agency has adopted an affordable housing policy meant to boost the construction of low-cost rental units in the town.

The IDA policy is the first of its kind on Long Island, agency officials said.

The Babylon agency’s seven-member board voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the new requirements, which officials said they hope will alleviate the local shortage of affordable rentals and the financial burden it places on Babylon’s workforce.

Under the new policy, developers seeking Babylon IDA tax breaks to build housing with five apartments or more must make 20 percent of the units affordable for the duration of the agency benefits.

Monthly rent for those units can be priced no higher than 70 percent of fair market value as determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to the policy. This year, that would mean $1,073 per month for a one-bedroom apartment.

To qualify for the affordable units, households can make no more than 60 percent of median income in the area, with thresholds varying depending on the apartment size, according to Peter Elkowitz of the Hauppauge nonprofit Long Island Housing Partnership, which helped craft the policy.

In return, developers will receive tax breaks greater than what the agency normally provides, including prolonged abatements of real estate and sales taxes, IDA chief executive Matthew T. McDonough said.

The affordability requirements will expire at the same time as the IDA benefits, meaning rent for those units will likely rise to market levels after 20 or 30 years, McDonough said. The agency cannot legally require a landlord to keep units affordable in perpetuity, he said.

While industrial development agencies do not traditionally subsidize housing construction, McDonough said an affordable rental market is necessary for Babylon’s economy to thrive.

The agency started crafting the policy after hearing from local businesses that their workers struggled to find affordable housing nearby, he said.

Rezoning projects in Copiague and East Farmingdale that allow for denser development were another consideration, McDonough said.

Affordable housing is treated “like a bad word,” said Babylon Town Deputy Supervisor Tony Martinez, who is also the town’s paid liaison to the IDA.

“But it shouldn’t be,” he said. “It’s for hardworking people.”

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