Long Island's Rental Housing Crisis

Demand for rental housing is growing throughout the New York metropolitan region. Young workers are marrying later and showing more interest in downtown living. At the same time, the nation's large baby boom generation is looking to move into smaller houses and apartments as they near retirement and children leave home.

Yet more than any other part of the New York region, Long Island Island is ill-prepared for growing demand for rental housing, according to a new study conducted by Regional Plan Association for the Long Island Community Foundation. Long Island has far fewer rental homes, and is building the fewest townhouses and apartments of any part of the tri-state area, the report shows. On average, the Hudson Valley, northern New Jersey and southwestern Connecticut have two-and-a-half times the number of available rental homes per household than Long Island, making it difficult for Nassau and Suffolk to attract skilled workers and young professionals. With demand high, rents have increased far more than incomes, leaving many middle-income workers unable to afford a typical two-bedroom apartment. In addition, Long Island’s segregated housing pattern has resulted in severe disparities in access to opportunities for minority communities.

The shortage of rental housing already is straining Long Island's economy. Young college graduates who increasingly prefer walkable neighborhoods near transit find their housing options expensive and unappealing compared with other parts of the New York area. Many end up living with relatives or relocating, depriving the local economy of consumer purchases. Middle-income professionals and service workers increasingly struggle to afford housing on the Island. Some gravitate toward illegal apartments, which can lead to overcrowded and unsafe conditions. 

Without an increase in rental homes, Long Island's economy is likely to stagnate. Businesses depend on the availability of a workforce that ranges across ages and skill levels. For Long Island to compete for tomorrow’s workers, it will need to keep up with Westchester, New Jersey and Connecticut, as well as regions across the U.S., in providing affordable rental homes in vibrant downtowns. Without these options, companies that employ high-paying workers will look elsewhere. Without the tax revenue generated by these companies and new residents, everyone else’s property taxes are likely to go up.

By contrast, the upside of building more rental homes means more jobs, higher incomes and more tax revenue.

In the post-World War II era, Long Island led the nation in building affordable homes to accommodate a booming surburban population. The housing built in the post-war decades suited the economy and family patterns of that period. But the needs of residents, the economy and the environment have changed. Unless Long Island adapts, it will continue to lose ground.

Read the full study, including recommendations for how Long Island can increase the availability of rental housing. 

The study was prepared by RPA as part of the Long Island Affordable and Fair Housing Initiative Advisory Group convened by the Long Island Community Foundation. It was made by possible by a generous grant by the Ford Foundation