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Among suburbs, Long Island is falling behind

A view of Hempstead Turnpike in East Meadow.

A view of Hempstead Turnpike in East Meadow. Credit: Barry Sloan

Long Island might look a lot like its other New York City suburbs, from its quiet cul-de-sacs to its crowded commuter rail cars. Our residents have the same desires for a high quality of life and fine schools, as well as concerns about traffic and high taxes.

But as a region, Long Island is falling behind its neighbors in a disturbing number of ways, from population growth to housing to poverty. The numbers tell a troubling story.

That’s one of the most significant take-aways from this year’s Long Island Index, which provides data and objective analysis on the region. Its 15th and final research report was released last week.

The Index’s analysis emphasized the Island’s slow-growing economy, need for rental housing, and, as in the past, the need to consolidate our fragmented government structure, which makes it hard to accomplish anything with a coherent regional focus. The Index makes clear that the traditional suburban lifestyle in other parts of New York is changing, and Nassau and Suffolk counties must change, too, if they want to stay affordable and competitive.

Start with this: Long Island has the smallest share of renter-occupied homes compared with any other part of the metropolitan area. Its share — just 20 percent of its housing stock — is woefully inadequate compared with Connecticut, the Hudson Valley or northern New Jersey, where rentals are more than a third of residences. That might explain, in part, why the Island’s population growth is slower than most of those other regions. Adding to an already worrisome picture: Our poverty rates are rising faster than any other part of the region.

Then there’s one of the most stunning statistics in the Long Island Index report: In 2015, 35 percent of adults 18 to 34 years old lived with their parents. Just two years later, it was 41 percent.

And it’s not a matter of not having the space to build. The Island has 8,300 underutilized acres in downtowns and around rail stations, the Index found. A staggering 52 percent of that land is used for surface parking lots. Using just half of that space for development, the Index found, could result in 90,000 new townhomes and apartments.

All of this comes as the Long Island Regional Planning Council, an advocacy group, released a study this month that spotlighted the damage Long Island’s high property taxes do to the region. The study found that high property taxes limit the Island’s growth and that there’s a need for alternatives to provide homeowners relief.

The Rauch Foundation is turning over the reins of the Long Island Index to Newsday’s editorial board, which will continue the independent research of the annual report, with the data becoming the foundation of a new community website called nextLI.

Long Island needs to keep pace with changes in the economy, technology and the ways new generations want to live. To do so, it must attract a better mix of employers and job opportunities, add housing with different varieties suited for each community, and reduce the bureaucratic red tape and layers of government that stand in the way of that happening.

We need to be able to tell a better story.