Op Ed: Affordable Housing at a Crisis Stage

What everyone agrees on is that we have an affordable housing crisis.

It’s not simply a problem. It’s not just a situation. It’s a full-blown crisis impacting on many people.

One window I have on it is as a professor looking at the faces and being engaged in discussions with scores of young people every week—and when the conversation turns sometimes to housing, their expressions and comments turn gloomy. They wonder how they will ever be able to afford a house on Long Island now with the mean cost of one in Suffolk County at more than $500,000? How will they ever be able to afford a house in Nassau with a mean cost there of more than $600,000?

In both counties, that’s a payment of more than $3,000 a month—more than $700 a week—on a 30-year mortgage with a 6% fixed interest. And that’s before property taxes and costs of utilities and upkeep.

For those who dream of owning a single-family home—the housing standard for better and worse on Long Island—that requires a salary of $1,000 a week or more than $50,000 a year just for housing.

My students from New York City who figure that they’d be living in an apartment
someday wonder how they could ever afford the average rent of an apartment in the city now at more than $3,000 a month.

The crisis has overtones that hark back to the Great Depression. Consider the important Riverhead-based homeless services initiative Maureen’s Haven. It provides at houses of worship in Suffolk County, free, seven nights a week, shelter for homeless men and women. (Our synagogue, Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor, participates in it. My wife is among those who cook meals for folks cared for by Maureen’s Haven.)

But the program only runs from November 1 to March 31. An article last week by Express News Group reporter Michael Wright in the Sag Harbor Express was headlined “With Spring’s Arrival, Homeless Lose a Lifeline.” For one participant in the Maureen’s Haven program, the piece began, “this past Friday was probably  the last night for some time that he would sleep in a bed.”

Where will he and others now go? Will many sleep in the woods on Long Island? Yes.

Their plight is a modern-day variation on “Grapes of Wrath.”

What a comment it is on our society today!

Housing is a basic human need.

In her “State of the State” address in January, Governor Kathy Hochul declared that “we must improve the quality of life for New Yorkers. But you can’t really talk about quality of life without talking about cost of living. With inflation soaring, prices are going up on everything families need to buy. And on top of that, paying the monthly rent or mortgage— it’s just overwhelming. So let’s talk about everyone’s largest expense: housing.”

“Over the last 10 years,” said the governor, “our state has created 1.2 million jobs—but only 400,000 new homes. Many forces led to this state of affairs. But front and center are the local land use policies that are the most restrictive in the nation. Through zoning, local communities hold enormous power to block growth.”

“Between full-on bans of multi-family homes, and onerous zoning and approvals
processes, they make it difficult—even impossible—to build new homes.”

“Between 2010 and 2018,” she said, “Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, and Putnam
Counties, each granted fewer building permits per capita than virtually all suburban counties across Massachusetts, Connecticut, Southern California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Northern Virginia.”

The governor spoke about how “too many of our people are struggling to find a place to call home, and they are looking to us for bold leadership. Decisive action is called for now.”

“Today,” she said, “I’m proud to introduce the New York Housing Compact, a
groundbreaking strategy to catalyze the housing development we need for our communities to thrive. For our economy to grow. And our state to prosper. The compact pulls together a broad menu of policy changes that will collectively achieve the ambitious goal of 800,000 new homes over the next decade. The compact sets clear expectations for the growth we need while at the
same time, giving localities plenty of tools, flexibility, and resources to stimulate that growth.
Every single locality across the state will have a target for building new homes. Upstate, the target is for the current housing stock to grow by 1% every three years. Downstate, 3% every three years.”

More next week on the affordable housing crisis.

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