It's so hard to build housing on Long Island — especially affordable housing — that any new proposal could be seen as welcome and worthwhile. But the region has to make sure each effort adequately fills an aspect of Long Island’s needs and, when possible, produces enough housing at a range of prices to make a difference.
That's especially true if those developers are seeking Industrial Development Agency benefits, which so many seem to nowadays.
Recent IDA efforts for projects in Mineola and Westbury can illustrate some of what works — and what might need rethinking.
In Westbury, developer Terwilliger & Bartone Properties LLC proposed a 72-unit apartment building, with 10 units below-market, near the Long Island Rail Road station. It's an important development, especially in the context of Westbury's broader efforts. The Nassau County IDA awarded the developer 20 years of tax breaks, allowing payments of $9.4 million over that period. While such breaks might make sense there, especially as part of a larger effort, the project must live up to its promises to justify those breaks.
In Mineola, meanwhile, the owners of an existing apartment building are hoping for an additional 10 years of tax breaks on top of the 20 years they were granted in 2015. In exchange, Lalezarian Properties said they'd make more of the complex's 266 units affordable. But over 18 years, the building will make just 13 more units affordable, priced for those who earn up to 80% of median income — about $66,450 for a single renter. That's rich. That same building employs 19 individuals, earning an average salary of just $35,000.
The Mineola request is particularly interesting, as it's the first attempt to benefit from a new IDA policy that allows additional tax breaks in exchange for additional affordable units. The policy has a worthwhile aim. But it doesn't go far enough. Ten years of tax breaks have to be worth more — both in quantity and in the level of affordability. Nassau's IDA chairman Richard Kessel notes that with a building fully rented now, there may be limited units available for price reductions. But use those that are. And why not, for instance, offer some of those units to those earning far lower incomes — like the very people the project employs?
The projects also illustrate the need for standards on IDA decisions. Too often it seems developers can reach for the gold ring and grab it with little effort and without clear guidelines.
The real problem is a far larger one, as the region is stuck with high taxes, expensive real estate and financing options that seem to lead to developers needing IDA assistance every time they build anything. As long as that's the case, the IDA is right to focus on downtown redevelopment and affordable housing. But its bar for saying "yes" has to be higher.
MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.