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Editorial: Huntington's view of rental housing hurts young adults

Community members in favor of a development offering

Community members in favor of a development offering affordable rental options attend a public meeting at Huntington's Town Hall. (Dec. 10, 2013) Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

The Town of Huntington has a well-deserved reputation for hostility to affordable housing.

Residents have railed against proposals at public meetings, sometimes in inflammatory and derogatory ways. Most of what has been approved by town officials has been affordable homes for purchase, not for rent. Perhaps most notoriously, a plan pitched in 1978 to build an affordable complex in East Northport -- half ownership, half rentals -- still is stalled 35 years later, slowed by community opposition and legal action; in one lawsuit, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a lower court decision that the town's zoning practices were discriminatory.

So it should come as no surprise that a proposal to build 117 affordable rental units of various sizes on Ruland Road in Melville has encountered stiff resistance. Civic groups and school district officials have protested. Now the preference of town officials is one-bedroom units for ownership, not rent. That's the wrong stance, for many reasons. The board should allow the proposed rentals to go forward.

The complicated backstory begins more than 10 years ago, when a luxury senior complex in Melville called The Greens at Half Hollow was built. The current Ruland Road proposal was supposed to offset a lack of affordable family housing at The Greens. Housing advocates from groups such as Housing Help Inc. say Huntington officials promised that the Ruland Road housing would be rentals in exchange for the advocates' support of The Greens; town officials say no such promise was made. What's indisputable is that the Ruland Road proposal has been the subject of two lawsuits, one of which is still active, and that the debate has come down to whether the 117 units should be one-bedroom ownership units or rentals.

Town officials who support the ownership units say home ownership is the American dream, and they want to increase access to it. That flies in the face of reality on the ground. Housing experts, planning experts, development experts -- all say the crying need on Long Island is for rental housing. One reason for the exodus of young people from the area is the lack of housing options. Young adults typically do not want to own -- which increasingly will be the case as they continue to get married later in life and have children later -- and cannot afford the down payment and closing costs. Many seniors seeking to downsize, and those losing homes to foreclosures, also are looking for rentals. Financing for one-bedroom ownership units -- that is, condos -- has dried up, and once built they are hard to sell. As for home ownership being the American dream, for many Long Islanders the road to that dream started with renting. Some of our villages understand this; places such as Patchogue and Farmingdale that have built or are constructing rental housing promise to be the dynamic communities of tomorrow.

Huntington has spent more than $400,000 in legal fees fighting Ruland Road -- and the fight goes on. The town and the NAACP, the plaintiff, continue to try to negotiate a settlement to avoid a trial that likely would start in February. No one needs that. Instead of pandering to civic organizations that can rally voting blocs against them, town board members should do the right thing -- and the commonsense thing. They should say yes to the kind of development needed across Long Island. It's time to change Huntington's unfortunate legacy.