Lately a number of politicians have been consumed by the possibility that hundreds, if not thousands of migrants, would leave New York City and invade the beautiful shores of Nassau and Suffolk counties. It is fair to say that there are not enough facilities or housing to accommodate them. While there is a lot of focus on the possible visitors, these same elected officials are not paying attention to the group that is leaving.
By group, I refer to the large number of young people ages 20 to 35, who are leaving Long Island because of the tragic lack of affordable housing. These departees love the many features of our region and would love to live in a community that has great parks, beaches, golf courses, restaurants and other attractions. But once they search for an apartment that meets their budget, there is nothing to be found.
If you follow the local newspapers, you will find numerous advertisements for new developments, but it is hard for a 21-year-old with a new job to afford the very attractive housing that is being built. Faced with this economic dilemma, they leave the island for an apartment that they might be able to share with a roommate.
Last year, to her credit, Gov. Kathy Hochul proposed that hundreds of thousands of new housing units should be built in communities throughout the state. The flaw in her plan was that the housing would not require local zoning approval. When it comes to the issue of local control, nothing inflames suburban residents more than the suggestion by any elected official that local zoning laws can be overridden by a higher power.
The governor, under pressure from Democratic suburban state legislators, was forced to temporarily abandon her plan, hoping to renew it in some form at the 2024 session of the two houses in Albany. New York City Mayor Eric Adams, tired of waiting for a state plan, has just unveiled his idea of how to create 100,000 units of new affordable housing.
While the mayor’s plan doesn’t fit that neatly into the Long Island zoning patterns, there are some concepts that are moving forward locally that resemble the city proposals. The Baldwin area on the South Shore is currently undergoing a renewal plan that eliminates local blight and builds housing in the immediate vicinity of the LIRR station. There are other projects now under construction in the bi-county region that are utilizing vacant land surrounding other LIRR stations.
When it comes to the idea of planned communities that got stuck in a number of local issues, I recall the Heartland Town Square plan proposed by the late Gerry Wolkoff. Heartland was designed to attract young residents to a town filled with enough affordable housing and attractions which would encourage residents to stay on Long Island, if they found a local job. It would also be desirable to young couples looking for some place unique to live.
Gerry Wolkoff was a dreamer who was willing to spend millions to carry out his dream project. He would spend hours promoting his concept and spoke with passion about the need to keep our young people on Long Island. Wolkoff had to deal with multiple government hurdles and opposition by unions, all which kept his Heartland proposal from moving forward.
If you want to see what a visionary mayor can do, visit the Village of Patchogue. Over a period of years, the village was transformed from a decaying area into a vibrant and creative town. It has attractive stores, restaurants, bars and apartments that appeal to younger residents and many other features. It has been voted one of the best places to live in New York.
For as long as I can remember, politicians have made the Long Island quality of life a major part of their agenda. They fight to keep communities looking the same as they did 100 years ago. I love the island and don’t want to see it lose its charm and suburban quality of life. But you can’t hold on to the past and let our young people leave at the same time. We need new dreamers to come forward with ideas on how to stop our youth from leaving. Maybe that is asking too much.