Cover of the "Getting It Done'' report by the Long...

Cover of the "Getting It Done'' report by the Long Island Index Credit:

The young scientists who could lead this region to a more prosperous high-tech economy can't find a place to live on Long Island. They're working long hours, starting a career and doing good science. So they're not ready for the area's signature one-family homes with lawns, because they have no families to put in the homes and no time to mow the lawns. But there's a severe shortage of the rental housing that they need.

That's the recruitment problem that Bruce Stillman, the president of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, outlined yesterday at the launch of the eighth annual Long Island Index report. The lab, one of the region's research pillars, has launched start-up companies and will launch more. If we can get those firms to stay on Long Island - having attractive housing, education and entertainment options is crucial - they can help build the base of higher-paying jobs that we desperately need to pump up our sluggish economy.

Stillman's problem is only one manifestation of what we all know: This region needs more rental housing of all kinds.

As always, the Index's report offers solid data on the state of the Island. But the numbers are dispiriting, because the trends are not moving the right way. This year's report shows our private sector jobs down by 27,000 in the past decade; average pay per employee down 3 percent from 2000, and a sharper decline in the number of 25-to-34-year-olds than elsewhere in the New York area.

Last year, the Index identified a sign of hope: 8,300 acres suitable for redevelopment in downtowns and near railroad stations. We'd be far better off building housing in downtowns - where people like Stillman's young scientists want to be, anyway - than bulldozing open space. But our governmental culture makes redevelopment painfully slow.

For this year's report, two researchers, working with the Regional Plan Association, explored approval processes here. They found, unfortunately, that three out of four municipalities surveyed don't track the time it takes staff to review proposals. They lag on technology (very few online applications). Only one town and fewer than half of the villages do next-day building inspections. That wait adds to the cost of construction.

Though a survey done for the Index by Stony Brook University shows 62 percent of us worry about the lack of affordable housing, we're making little progress. We fret about school overcrowding and traffic, but not enough about the economy-killing consequences of inaction. We worry about building too much density. But we're not concerned enough about how much density we need to make downtown retail viable.

"We can no longer afford to do nothing," said Nancy Rauch Douzinas, publisher of the Index. But that's what we're doing. We're losing our young. We're watching our economy stagnate. How many times does the Index have to give us scary numbers before we embrace the change we need? hN