Affordable housing plan raises hopes, doubts
Nearly halfway into the "preliminary" agenda posted online for Thursday night’s Huntington Town board meeting was an item that generated huge interest across the town and beyond, as it would’ve been a new step in the Matinecock Court project, a development that’s been the subject of controversy and legal battles for more than four decades.
But by late Thursday afternoon, it seemed the item had been pulled from the agenda after apparently getting stuck in messy internal squabbles within the board. Sources said there was still a chance it could come up for a vote, but that it wasn’t likely to happen Thursday evening, leaving the next steps in the ongoing saga of the controversial project uncertain.
At issue was whether the board would authorize the town attorney to sign off on an amended settlement and consent decree regarding Matinecock Court, the East Northport affordable housing project on 14.5 acres of land at Elwood and Pulaski roads.
Matinecock Court developer Peter G. Florey wants to shift the project from 146 units split evenly between rental and ownership to "limited equity cooperative" units that operate similarly to rentals in terms of the monthly fee paid, but allow residents to develop an equity stake in the development over time.
But town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo told The Point that during the board’s workshop meeting Thursday afternoon, no board member sponsored the item and without a sponsor, the item would come off the agenda. She noted that there was still a chance a board member could choose to raise it at the meeting itself.
Over the last week, the agenda item became a bit of a pingpong ball within the town board. Council member Ed Smyth noted that there had been no public hearing on the issue before it was put on the preliminary agenda for a vote. And it seemed there was internal fighting within the board as to whether the Matinecock Court issue should come up for a vote this year — or wait until the new board was in place in January.
"I am disappointed by the lack of transparency by the current town board," Smyth told The Point. "The resolution should be put up for a public hearing before any action is taken on it."
Board member Eugene Cook refused to take a position when reached by The Point Thursday afternoon, and said he didn’t expect the item would come to a vote.
"I think from what the board was looking at, they weren’t ready to vote on it," Cook said. "I think the new board should take a look at it and decide what they want to do."
Smyth, who will take the reins as town supervisor come January, had expressed reservations for days. On social media, he called the limited equity cooperative label "a deception."
"Housing Help, Inc. and the Developer are misleading the public about what this really is," Smyth wrote. "It is a conversion from actual owner-occupied units to effectively 100% rental units."
In an interview with The Point Thursday, Smyth expanded on his take, saying he opposed the resolution because the new arrangement would not provide a true equity interest for those in the development. He said he’d prefer the adoption of a new town affordable housing plan based on New York City’s model that would give prospective buyers direct loan assistance so they could build equity via homeownership.
Florey told The Point earlier Thursday that despite Smyth’s public concerns, the councilman deserved credit for suggesting new elements that were added to the arrangement, including how a resident’s equity stake would increase over time. And Florey noted that he has had success with this type of development before, in a Melville project called Highland Green.
"We really think this is the right structure and the right time," Florey told The Point before the board chose to remove the agenda item.
Sources told The Point the developer and advocates might continue to pursue the limited equity cooperative concept, which could mean it would come before the new board for a vote early next year.
"At this point, I think we’re evaluating the best pathway forward but we wouldn’t rule anything out," Florey told The Point Thursday evening.
And advocates said they wouldn’t stop pushing for the project to move forward. Pilar Moya-Mancera, the executive director of Housing Help, Inc., which owns the land and came to the initial agreement on the rental/ownership mix — and supported the new arrangement — said in a statement late Thursday afternoon that even without the limited equity cooperative structure, Housing Help would continue to push for a fully affordable development, even if it means going back to the half-rental, half-condominium structure. And Housing Help officials still planned to attend the meeting Thursday evening.
In the same statement, Florey called the board’s move "disappointing."
"Today is a sad day for the furtherance of affordable housing on Long Island and in Huntington," Florey said.
That comment stood in stark contrast to the optimism both Florey and Moya-Mancera expressed earlier in the day.
"We are on the cusp of being able to move this forward in earnest after 43 years," Florey said earlier. "I think everybody should vote their conscience. Let their consciences decide what direction they think this should go — along with the wisdom of the proposal. We remain cautiously optimistic."
Before the board decision to remove the item, Moya-Mancera had made it clear to The Point that she expected the project to move forward no matter what.
"We will be breaking ground in June of 2022," she said, "with or without the current proposed amendments."
Who went where
Enough time has passed and enough data has been collected to finally get a fuller picture of the migration flow between city and suburbs during the pandemic.
It’s an issue with political, economic and cultural implications, and a report released this week from NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer sheds new light on the subject, finding that many city residents, particularly those from wealthier neighborhoods, fled as schools and offices shuttered in March 2020.
Analyzing United States Postal Service change-of-address data, the report finds that net out-migration from the city "increased by an estimated 130,837 from March 2020 through June 2021, as compared to pre-pandemic trends." (This excluded moves marked "temporary.")
There are interesting data points about how residents from the wealthiest neighborhoods were more likely to leave, fleeing places like Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Greenwich Village, Murray Hill, and the Upper West and East Sides of Manhattan. Residents of denser neighborhoods were also keen to leave, though wealth was a larger factor.
Most interesting to Long Islanders, however, is confirmation of the big outflow to Nassau and Suffolk counties. The report notes that from March through August 2020, "net in-migration rose 9 percent in Westchester County but more than doubled on Long Island." Over 59% of the Long Island gain came from temporary moves to Suffolk, and you can probably guess where. East Hampton, Southampton, and Sag Harbor were among the top ZIP codes for largest net gains in 2020, in all of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
But the analysis also suggests that many of those relocations aren’t forever. Moves from wealthier NYC neighborhoods in 2020 were more likely to be marked temporary. With public schools, offices, and NYC entertainment starting to reopen this fall, net residential migration to the city improved, even compared with 2019. And neighborhoods that outperformed their pre-pandemic trends were some of the same, wealthier ones that sent more people packing in the first place.
— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano
Shooting from the lip
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A Schumer challenger
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, up for reelection in 2022, tends to be in constant campaign mode and ready to defend his turf, but that hasn’t stopped some challengers from looking at a race against him from the right. One of them, Aleksander Mici, threw his hat in the ring this week.
Mici, a 46-year-old immigrant from Albania who came to the U.S. as a teenager, is fresh off a fairly strong but failed bid for an open, typically Democratic New York City Council seat in the Bronx. He also previously and unsuccessfully tried to topple former State Sen. Jeff Klein in 2016 and 2014.
This time around, expect the challenge to focus on whether or not Schumer is too closely aligned with the democratic socialist wing of his party.
"The left's vision for America is not the America that generations of immigrants like me fought to reach," said Mici in a campaign launch news release. "My Congresswoman, AOC and my Senator, Chuck Schumer, are pushing every day to make our nation look more like the communist dictatorship I fled, than like the America that has been a shining beacon of hope for generations of people yearning for freedom."
He also noted Schumer’s general election endorsement of India Walton, the democratic socialist Buffalo mayoral candidate who won the Democratic primary.
A statewide bid against the Brooklyn workhorse who’s always traveling the region will likely be uphill for Mici, who has a law practice in the Bronx as well as a few acting gigs under his belt, appearing as a driver or bouncer in shows such as "Person of Interest" and "White Collar," according to The Riverdale Press.
But nothing’s ever certain in politics, and there’s certainly money to be raised and made and used along the way. The challenger is using Republican firm Lighthouse Public Affairs, which has worked for other challengers to prominent New York Democrats like Tom Suozzi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In that latter race, the GOP’s John Cummings was able to raise over $11 million for his crushing defeat to AOC in 2020. Not enough to oust the incumbent, but plenty for negative advertising.
— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano