In the last two years, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has continued to expand the affordable housing program throughout the five boroughs.
Ensuring that the housing units produced are sustainable and aligned with the needs of the city’s changing demographics is a key feature to his Housing New York: A Five Borough, Ten Year Plan.
Brooklyn and Queens find themselves with greater opportunities for development on an island where the average price for a single-family home is nearly $380,000, according to a 2015 article published by the Long Island Index, a research group that records and studies the changing demographics on Long Island.
But the values of the homes and the payments that come with them can vary substantially throughout Long Island, with prices ranging so high that a home can become unaffordable for all but a few.
“From all the different stages of life—a young person looking for their first home, middle-aged buyers moving or seniors looking to retire—the process of getting a home involves paying too much of your income for housing on Long Island,” Lisa Tyson, director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition, an organization dedicated to promoting sustainability and racial justice, said.
Find The Best, a data search engine, listed the two counties that make up most of the Long Island suburbs—Nassau and Suffolk—as some of the most expensive counties in the entire United States. The Long Island Index found that in 2013 over half of Long Islanders found it difficult to pay their rent or mortgage every month.
Families who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing are considered cost burdened and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Michael Zweig, an economics professor at Stony Brook University and director of the Center for Working Class Life, elaborated on the 30 percent rule established by the government, calculating that a majority of Long Islanders would have to be paid over $40-an-hour in order to comfortably spend only 30-percent of their yearly income on housing.
“Even that may not get you there,” he added. “Housing is an enormous problem.”
Zweig explained that the 2008 recession caused housing prices to fall on Long Island, but now that they’re rising again, the need for affordable housing is also going up. But there is a pushback against the construction of affordable housing units inherently tied to the white flight to suburbia in New York.
“It’s an issue of race,” Zweig said. “People will always say, ‘We don’t want [affordable housing] in our community because they’ll be coming.’”
Zweig is referring to the historical practice of keeping minorities out of certain neighborhoods, a practice that has shaped much of Long Island.
Long Island is one of the most racially segregated suburban regions in the country, according to a housing report by ERASE Racism, a Long Island group that promotes racial equality.
Along with the Fair Housing Justice Center, a regional fair housing organization based in New York City, ERASE Racism filed a complaint in 2015 against a superintendent in Mayfair Garden Apartments in Commack, north-east of Dix Hills, for repeatedly placing “discriminatory barriers in the path of African Americans who inquired about apartments for rent.” These two civil rights organizations, along with seven African American testers—who were treated less favorably than their white counterparts—filed this action to halt and reform the Defendants’ discriminatory practices, according to the complaint.
Whites people represent around 90 percent of Commack, and African Americans stand at fewer than 1 percent, according to the 2010 U.S. census.
A growing trend to address housing segregation is through the affordable housing method of 80/20, which has developers either make 20-percent of the housing units they’re currently constructing affordable for low-income residents or pay a heavy fine to their district’s affordable housing organization.
“It’s either pay up or make affordable units,” Tyson, who also works with Yes in My Back Yard, a Long Island group that supports the rise of affordable housing throughout the island, said.
YIMBY relies on community support to push legislation that provides both a diversity of housing options for Long Island residents and affordable housing, Tyson said.
“We go out talking to people, find supporters and bring those supporters with us to fight for our cause,” she said. Tyson helped pass a $3 million affordable housing bond in the Town of East Hampton back in 2003.
As housing prices continue to increase on Long Island, 77 percent of its residents worry that family members will be forced to leave because they can no longer afford to stay, according to the Long Island Index. With the call for affordable housing continuing, housing may no longer be based strictly on economic matters.
“It can’t be left to the markets,” Zweig said. “It has to be a social policy.”