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Editorial: Rental housing on campus is worth exploring

Suffolk County Community College president Shaun McKay speaks

Suffolk County Community College president Shaun McKay speaks beside Suffolk County Legis. Sarah Anker during a news conference regarding a study on the idea of creating affordable housing for young people on college campuses at SCCC in Brentwood. (Dec. 6, 2013) Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

Suffolk County is considering a plan to build affordable rental housing on college and university campuses to help stem the exodus of young Long Islanders from the region after they finish school. Many questions need to be answered and many details worked out, but the proposal is promising and worth careful analysis.

The idea -- called planned young adult communities -- makes sense. Many recent college grads are likely to flock to campuses that offer affordable housing. While some local colleges lack space to even consider the plan, officials at Suffolk's two largest institutions -- Stony Brook University and Suffolk County Community College -- say they have land and are interested. Stony Brook, in particular, is enthusiastic. The school has thousands of graduate students and hospital workers -- residents, interns, post-docs -- who need affordable housing. Building it for their own community might help the university get around one wrinkle involved in offering affordable rentals solely to young adults. Federal housing law bans marketing housing to a particular age group unless the prospective tenants are 55 and older. But Suffolk officials say housing on college campuses open to all ages would draw mostly young people, the demographic that typically responds to affordable rentals.

Financing could be an issue. County officials who have had success promoting workforce housing are exploring the feasibility of public-private ventures. One promising model is the new Hilton Garden Inn on Stony Brook's campus; the university leased the land to a private company, a franchisee runs the hotel. Another critical issue is the relationship between a school and its renters in terms of responsibility and liability.

This idea could help alter one of the basic equations of Long Island life: Young people continue to leave, affordable rental housing continues to be difficult to build. Something needs to be done.