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OpinionEditorial

The tide might be turning on Long Island affordable housing

The Huntington Town Board is suggesting sweeping changes

The Huntington Town Board is suggesting sweeping changes to its Affordable Housing Code to increase the number of lower-cost new rentals in the downtown area and assist young, first-time home buyers. Feb. 8, 2017 Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

Any list of perennial Long Island ills must include the lack of affordable housing. The number of these residences is only the symptom. The underlying cause has been resistance to change and outright hostility from communities and local governments.

But attitudes throughout the region are changing — slowly, perhaps, with occasional ugly flare-ups, but changing nonetheless. And that’s good news. Especially in places like Huntington.

The town is making strides in moving past its checkered history. Even Matinecock Court, an affordable housing project in East Northport that drew fierce opposition from the moment it was proposed in the 1980s, has emerged from that bruising battle and seems likely to break ground next year. That only took three decades.

Now Huntington is considering plans that would expand further its stock of lower-cost housing. One proposal says that a developer building five or more residential units in a commercial zone where that’s automatically allowed must build one affordable unit for every five constructed. There is no such requirement now. The change, targeted to downtown areas, would help attract and retain young people who can’t afford the New York City-like rents being charged in some booming hot spots, Huntington in particular.

Another proposal would require developers to build 10 percent affordable whenever they’re following zoning but also want to exceed limits on things like square footage, for larger kitchens, for example, or greater height. In both cases, developers building fewer than five units would have to contribute to a town fund that helps low- and moderate-income people find places to live in Huntington. While the details are still being worked out, these types of proposals are meritorious and likely ones the town board, which will consider them next week, should approve.

Huntington’s progress is not happening in a vacuum. In Southampton, the town board has unanimously approved a 38-unit all-affordable project in Speonk that drew vociferous community protest when it was pitched in 2015. But developer David Gallo met with neighbors many times to hear their concerns, reduced the number of apartments, changed the design, and turned opposition into widespread support. It was a textbook case of community-based planning. And it resulted in cheaper housing for those who most need it — residents must earn between $30,000 and $80,000, depending on household size, to qualify — in an increasingly expensive part of Long Island where the need is acute.

There are more reasons for optimism. Great Neck Plaza Village and Southold Town are planning code changes that would encourage more affordable housing in those communities. East Hampton just gave out a $2.47 million contract for the town’s first affordable condominium project. And developers broke ground this week on a workforce housing complex with 45 apartments in Riverhead.

Long Island still has a long way to go toward having enough housing that younger residents, service workers, laborers and those who keep our community vital in many ways can afford. But at long last, change finally is on the way.— The editorial board

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