Long Island is making progress on its shameful record on affordable housing. Resistance in some places has quieted. Proposals have been approved and built. And new residents have added to the vibrancy of their communities, not detracted from them.
So it’s extremely dismaying to see old hostilities emerge again, as they have in Amity Harbor, on the South Shore in Babylon Town. Some residents there oppose an affordable home — that’s ONE affordably priced single-family home — proposed for a vacant lot that fronts Great South Bay. The previous home was damaged by superstorm Sandy.
The rhetoric has been ugly. In interviews with Newsday and in an online petition, some neighbors said this one home will turn their community into a “crime-ridden cesspool” and a “dump” and will ruin its “charm and character.” One resident warned of “something foreign” coming into the neighborhood. Another anticipated that people from New York City would move into the house and said, “They can put them somewhere else.” Others said affordable housing belongs next to railroad tracks, not on the waterfront.
The language and the tone are despicable.
Some Amity Harbor residents said they have worked hard for their waterfront views and it’s unfair that someone else would get that amenity without having earned it. What happened to goodwill? How can they use someone’s income to judge what the newcomer can contribute to the community? And this is no giveaway: The new owner will buy the house, albeit at a reduced price, after being vetted by the Long Island Housing Partnership and qualifying for a mortgage.
Opposition also has surfaced to a proposed 51-unit project next to the railroad station in Speonk. It is intended for people who work in Southampton Town but cannot afford to live there. Despite the extreme need for such workforce housing on the East End, critics say the development will destroy the community.
On the other hand, affordable housing projects are being planned, or are underway or finished in Coram, Middle Island, Copiague, Patchogue, Amityville, Melville and Riverhead, and Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell has called for 50 affordable apartments to be built in the next three years. Even infamous Matinecock Court, now close to 40 years in the making in East Northport, is nearing final approval. It’s no secret why this is happening. More Long Islanders realize that they, too, need affordable housing — for the adult children living in their basements and the aging parents who can no longer afford their own houses.
But building these units remains a challenge. More than 150 properties given to towns and villages by Suffolk County for affordable housing lie vacant, nearly 100 of them for more than seven years. Getting titles and permits and obtaining funding can be difficult. State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced a $4 million program to give subsidies to land banks, like one run by Suffolk, to help them convert abandoned properties into affordable housing. That should help.
What doesn’t help are attitudes like those expressed by some residents of Amity Harbor. Long Island needs to keep moving forward, and leave behind its disgraceful past. — The editorial board