Heatherwood Luxury Rentals broke ground on 428 rental units near...

Heatherwood Luxury Rentals broke ground on 428 rental units near the LIRR station in West Hempstead. Credit: Howard Schnapp

West Hempstead is now a neighborhood that said "yes." Can other Long Island areas follow suit? 

That's the question after Heatherwood Luxury Rentals broke ground on 428 units of transit-oriented rentals on a vacant, dilapidated site near the community's Long Island Rail Road station. It's a development even Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin calls "a win." 

Talk about being "pro-housing."

The groundbreaking came as Gov. Kathy Hochul launched a new housing program, which gives "pro-housing" municipalities priority for $650 million in state discretionary funds. Every Long Island community could be "pro-housing." But turning that moniker into action isn't simple.

Unlike Hochul's faulty mandate efforts, sprung earlier this year in state budget negotiations, the governor's current program is optional — and more flexible. Hochul deserves credit for trying again to get this right. Long Island has a tremendous need for housing and hasn't done enough to meet it. Nassau and Suffolk counties trail other areas of the state and nation in housing construction, damaging the region's economy and future.

To qualify for Hochul's program, municipalities must provide the state with zoning maps and codes, along with the past five years of housing planning and building permit data. That will show where future development might make sense — and where it doesn't. If a municipality's housing stock has increased by 1% in the previous year, or 3% over the past three years, it gets prioritized access to state money. If it hasn't built enough, local officials have an alternative: Pass a resolution committing to "pro-housing principles." The pledge, outlined on the state's website, commits a village or town to recognizing that the state's lack of housing "negatively impacts the future of New York State's economic growth and community well-being."

While simple, it doesn't commit the municipality to doing anything. A town or village could easily pass a resolution — and nothing else. It would mark a first step, by having the community discuss what can be done and commit to finding ways to achieve that. But it may not go far enough. It's helpful, for instance, that Hochul's money pot includes the Long Island Investment Fund, which is earmarked for transformative development. But the fund itself doesn't include housing development — and it should. Hochul may have to dangle more incentives to get towns and villages to not only say they're pro-housing, but to show it. 

There's no magic recipe to building housing here. Heatherwood executives point to finding the right spots and working with willing community partners as key ingredients. "Our business is pushing boulders uphill, but I'm not working against an avalanche," Heatherwood owner Douglas Partrick said. "That doesn't make any sense."

No Long Island community should be the "avalanche" against housing. But being "pro-housing" means more than just providing data and writing resolutions. Now, Long Island has to show it can be like West Hempstead, and do more.

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.

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