As a follow-up to nextLI’s 2019 survey of the next generation of Long Islanders, nextLI conducted two focus groups to look at the future of diversity and housing on Long Island. 

On Dec. 4, YouGov, a public opinion and research firm, facilitated the two focus group sessions at Beta Research in Syosset. To qualify, participants had to be between 18 and 79 years of age. While no hard quotas were set, emphasis was placed on ensuring a strong representation of African-American and Hispanic recruits, as well as individuals earning less than $100,000 per year.

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Discussions centered on the changing demographics of Long Island, perceptions of Long Island’s multicultural climate, the racial and ethnic diversity in our communities, the role of school districts in diversity and reactions to Newsday’s Long Island Divided series.

Over the next week, nextLI will feature follow-up video interviews with focus group participants. Here are some highlights of what was heard around the table.

Neighborhood diversity:

– At the beginning of each group, participants mostly described the words “diversity” and “multiculturalism” with neutral and benign descriptors (such as “array,” “togetherness,” and “change”). As the discussion continued, these terms – particularly diversity – called to mind a unique combination of discomfort but also opportunity.

– Participants acknowledged that their communities on Long Island have changed (in the past) or are currently changing to become more diverse. This diversity is reflected of many of their own experiences, since many moved from more diverse parts of New York City to towns on Long Island that were less diverse. As more individuals shared this story, participants saw their communities as naturally becoming more diverse.

– While Long Island as a whole and certain towns/communities have become more diverse, participants focused on specific areas of the town that were much more segregated. So while a town could have a good mix of races and ethnicities, participants demonstrated that a close look will reveal primarily Caucasian areas of town vs. primarily majority-minority areas of town. This segregation was frequently coupled with vast discrepancy in local services, quality of school districts, etc. between the predominately Caucasian areas of a town compared to areas with larger minority populations.

– Communities with multiple school districts or high schools reinforced the differences within a community. Communities that funnel into multiple high schools tend to have a higher quality (primarily Caucasian) school and what are perceived as lower quality, more diverse schools. These discrepancies in local services – particularly school districts – reinforce gaps in property values between certain sections of the town, thus exacerbating the issues.

Real estate:

– While participants did not have anything explicitly against diversity in their neighborhood, they saw this as a potential risk to their investment (i.e. property value), and also many reported they simply wanted what was best for their children by sending them to the best school.

– In general, participants were open to the idea of more affordable housing in some of Long Island’s more homogeneous communities. However, many warn against the negative perception of what “affordable housing” implied and how the infusion of this type of housing could impact some of the issues already reported with property values.

– Conversely, participants, particularly in minority communities, also had a concern that “gentrification” could impact their community and make staying in their home more difficult in the face of rising property taxes.

Long Island Divided series:

– Initial reactions to the Newsday’s investigation indicated participants were surprised by the extent of the issue, the intention of real estate agents and some of the “founders” of Long Island towns (such as William Levitt) to establish segregated communities, and what was perceived as a lack of consequences for those involved. The scale of the steering issue was particularly surprising to participants, as evident through the consistency of the results uncovered by the tests in nextLI/Newsday’s investigation.

– Further, participants were surprised that real estate agents could potentially steer potential home buyers to areas with lower property values – even at the expense of their own profit. The assumption is that people in these professions would be driven solely by money. Many participants indicate having personal experiences being “steered” in their home buying experience and/or hearing stories from others, yet many are still surprised by the extent to which Newsday uncovered steering in their investigation. This makes some who felt like they weren’t steered question their own home buying experience.

– On the important topic of school districts and the role they play in deciding where to live, confusion existed over how some districts are intentionally parsed within communities. While some saw these actions as active efforts to keep areas segregated, others felt it was more reactionary to growing communities.

– When looking towards the future, participants indicated that this was a multi-generational problem on Long Island that would require multi-generational solutions. They pointed towards the next generation having less built-in biases, having more integrated friend groups, and being less “jaded” than the current generation.

– Some participants felt that internet searches helped them not be steered and could correct some housing discrepancies. Initially, participants were surprised by the level that the testers relied on the insights and recommendations of real estate agents in their home search, with younger participants saying they would rely more heavily on their own internet searches before talking to real estate agents.

(Summary courtesy of YouGov)

If you were in the focus groups what would you say on these topics? Tell us nextLI@newsday.com

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