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Editorial: Don't exclude some from affordable housing

A rendering of the Wincoram Commons development in

A rendering of the Wincoram Commons development in Coram. It will occupy the site of an old United Artists movie theater, offering 176 affordable rental housing units, mixed retail and 13,300 square feet of commercial space. Builders broke ground May 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Kitchen & Associates

Affordable housing for some is better than affordable housing for none. But housing that makes Long Island more affordable for all is what's needed to make the region a more vibrant and desirable place to live.

That's the prism through which we view two recently announced initiatives for affordable housing. One is legislation proposed in the Town of North Hempstead to make it easier to build affordable housing for seniors. The other proposes to build in Bay Shore the metro area's first affordable housing for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender seniors.

It's no secret Long Island lacks affordable housing for seniors. When such developments are built, units are snapped up with plenty of people left on waiting lists. And the group behind the Bay Shore proposal says many LGBT seniors face discrimination when seeking housing. But in targeting one specific group, or a subset of that group in the Bay Shore case, these well-intentioned proposals exclude many others with similarly pressing needs -- families and young adults, for example.

North Hempstead's legislation -- which, among other things, reduces the minimum area required for projects from 5 acres to 2 acres -- would apply to affordable senior developments built by the town's housing authority, which has plans for 68 rental units in New Cassel and 72 rentals in Manhasset. Town officials are working on tweaks to make the law applicable to private developers, too.

The Bay Shore proposal comes from the Long Island GLBT Services Network, which would own the land and build 50 apartments and a LGBT community center. Fair housing laws dictate the development must be open to all seniors, which the services network acknowledges, but it expects the community center and a targeted marketing effort to attract mostly LGBT seniors. Suffolk County would fund part of the project through its Affordable Housing Opportunities Program.

The county's program, ratcheted up in recent years, mostly has funded developments with no preferences or requirements other than limited income -- like the 176-unit Wincoram Commons being built in Coram, and a 123-unit project approved for Middle Island. Jill Rosen-Nikoloff, the county director of real estate, says that in the Bay Shore proposal, consideration must be given to the fact that the GLBT Services Network would own the land and build and manage the development. Fair enough. More encouragingly, Rosen-Nikoloff says the county's goal is affordable housing open to all and marketed that way, and that Suffolk no longer plans to consider funding proposals that target specific populations.

Opposition to affordable housing with no restrictions still is fierce in many communities and an obstacle that must be overcome. While North Hempstead fine-tunes its legislation, town officials promise to continue to work to help residents understand the pressing needs of young people and families. The current senior proposal is one step on a long road, they say.

These attitudes are promising. Affordable housing for all should be the goal.

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