Small steps to help LI's big housing problem
After Gov. Kathy Hochul tried — and failed — to direct Long Island on how to manage its housing needs, it was clear Long Island would have to find its own way forward.
Outside advocates who backed Hochul's Housing Compact seemed to doubt that was possible, suggesting that the death of the governor's plan meant the death of future housing creation here.
The timing, therefore, was both symbolic and fortuitous, that even as Albany lawmakers were approving a budget that did not include Hochul's plan, the Island quietly was making significant housing moves on its own over the last two weeks. The moves might have been very different, but they illustrated the variety of responses the region will need to embrace.
Consider just these three:
- Huntington Town officials say they have the votes to modify town code to legalize basement apartments and detached garages as accessory dwelling units. The new law would require basement units to include sprinklers, and for fire marshals to be notified of the units' locations.
- In Mineola, a restaurant owner whose business was lost in a fire three years ago hopes to replace it with 18 units of housing, in what is the first proposal under the village's new effort to allow for and encourage such residential plans.
- In Smithtown, officials began seeking a master developer to acquire properties around the Long Island Rail Road station that can be redeveloped as a transit-oriented development. Ultimately, the town could zone the land to allow for four-story buildings with apartments and retail.
Individually, they're baby steps in lengthy processes. Together, they paint a picture of what's possible if local leaders, developers and advocates recognize the need and understand that even small moves could result in significant growth to the Island's housing stock.
The shifting landscape for retail and restaurants changes the conversation, too. Mineola restaurant owner Tony Lubrano, for instance, noted the increasing number of empty storefronts along the Jericho Turnpike stretch where Piccola Bussola had stood for 18 years.
None of this means the Island will suddenly be approving the large numbers of new units it needs. Each of these communities is taking an incremental approach, hoping not to upset civic leaders or residents who oppose height and density. Each is choosing a path that's viable. Even Lubrano noted that whatever housing he might build will be "something that will really fit in."
Every neighborhood needs to balance adding the housing it needs with developing projects that "fit in." But the definition of what fits is in the eye of the beholder. A basement apartment could "fit" just about anywhere in Huntington — but that doesn't mean Huntington residents will welcome them, especially if they add more kids to local schools. Significant mixed-use development could "fit" in Smithtown — but whether residents push back, and how much, remains to be seen.
When thinking grander, consequential numbers of housing units could "fit" at sites like the Sunrise Mall in Massapequa, or the former Sears property in Hicksville, or many of the Island's downtowns — but such bolder moves still seem out of reach.
So, we're left with baby steps, which certainly are worthy of applause and show how far we've come — but also illustrate just how much more there is to do.
But if we can take those small steps in two weeks, how much more is possible in the coming months and years? That's up to Long Island, as we continue to figure out what fits.
Columnist Randi F. Marshall's opinions are her own.