For more than 40 years, the saga of Matinecock Court has served as an exemplar of the brutal and ugly struggle to build affordable housing on Long Island.
But Wednesday, a project that has long been a source of frustration and anger became a reason to celebrate, as Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone signed a bill approved by the county legislature to provide more than $2.5 million for infrastructure and sewer needs.
The next step is to break ground early next year at the corner of Pulaski and Elwood roads in East Northport for 17 two-story buildings on 15 acres.
This significant moment comes with the tenuous hope that times have changed, that next time it will be easier to build a project like Matinecock Court, which will include 146 units split between rentals and owner-occupied homes.
A smoother path is by no means guaranteed. It's no wonder that even the joy Bellone and others expressed Wednesday was tempered with caution, as they noted that there's more work to do.
But that work must be done. The residents of the $66 million project are likely to be people we need to keep on Long Island, young adults and families. These are our teachers, nurses, police officers, construction workers and small-business owners, among others. Eight rentals will go to people with developmental disabilities. Residents of 69 rentals will be chosen by lottery, and initially can earn no more than 60 percent of the area's median income — $52,100 for one person or $74,400 for a four-person household. Starting out, the rent for a one-bedroom unit will be $1,624. The developer, Blue Sea Development, plans to keep the home-ownership units affordable, too, $195,500 at first for a one-bedroom home.
Matinecock Court was first proposed in 1978 as an all-rental subsidized housing project. Opponents then ticked off fears: crime, drugs, traffic, a lower quality of life. Sometimes they even said what they meant by those code words: They didn't want black and other minority residents in predominantly white East Northport. Legal battles ensued, eventually reaching the U.S. Supreme Court. A 1989 decision affirmed that the Town of Huntington had violated the federal Fair Housing Act by permitting rental housing only in Huntington Station, where mostly minorities lived.
At the heart of Matinecock Court's arduous fight was a massive failure of leadership, particularly by Huntington Town. Supporters compromised on the type and number of units and sought community involvement. Most important was the steadfast refusal to give up by advocates and developers, including Blue Sea and Housing Help, the nonprofit organization involved from the beginning.
Last-minute objections even preceded last week's legislative approval. But county officials lined up dozens of advocates to speak. And Legis. William Spencer, who represents the area, addressed each concern, ending with an impassioned plea, "This is the right thing to do." The vote was 16-1.
Perhaps in 40 years, the 146 homes at Matinecock Court will be seen not as an ugly stamp on the past, but as the start of a new chapter in Long Island's housing story. — The editorial board