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$3,100 a month in rent isn’t ‘affordable housing’

The Suffolk County Legislature.

The Suffolk County Legislature. Credit: News 12

One axiom about Long Island is that the region needs more affordable housing. So we welcome a bill passed recently by the Suffolk County Legislature that seeks to stimulate such construction. It offers developers lower sewer connection fees in return for housing set aside for those on fixed or lower incomes, including young families or those just starting out.

The bill, sponsored by Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue), contains another good provision that the affordable units must be built on the site of the proposed project. Allowing builders to promise to construct the units at another location is a recipe for economic segregation and sometimes means the critically needed component of suburban housing is built years later, if at all.

But Calarco’s legislation also spotlights another problem — the very definition of affordable housing. It mimics language in different parts of the county code that defines affordable or workforce housing as being for those making 120 percent of Long Island’s median income — about $127,000 for a family of four. That figure might work for houses and condos where payments are reasonable and you own the property, but it makes no sense for rentals because it would allow a developer to charge more than $3,100 a month for rent. That’s not affordable housing.

Calarco says he is working on a sweeping code revision that would change the qualifying standard for all affordable rental housing to 80 percent of area median income. That would translate to a more reasonable monthly rent of about $2,100. It’s a terrific idea and one that Calarco’s legislative colleagues should embrace. Housing that is actually affordable would be a victory for all of Long Island.

— The editorial board