A Brewing Crisis on Long Island

Demand for rental housing is climbing throughout the tri-state region. Yet Long Island, more than any other part of the metropolitan area, is ill-prepared to meet the growing need.

That’s the conclusion of a new study conducted by Regional Plan Association for the Long Island Community Foundation, which showed that Long Island has far fewer rental homes and is building the fewest townhouses and apartments of any part of the tri-state area.

Driving the demand for rentals are several sweeping cultural and demographic shifts. Young workers are marrying later. They also are showing more interest in downtown living and are gravitating toward mass transit (PIRG study) instead of car-based 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.

These changing preferences pose a challenge for Long Island. 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 affordable housing and economic opportunity for black and Latino families..

The shortage of rental housing already is straining Long Island's economy. Young college graduates who are seeking out walkable neighborhoods 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. In fact, more than half of adults under the age of 35 are living with their parents or grandparents. Middle-income professionals and service workers are struggling to afford housing on the Island. Some gravitate toward illegal apartments, which can lead to overcrowded and unsafe conditions.

Businesses depend on the availability of a workforce that ranges across ages and skill levels. A narrower labor pool will deter companies from staying in Long Island or setting up shop there. That will put a dent in Long Island’s tax base and increase the burden on existing property owners.

In 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 suburban 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. Read stories in the New York Times and Newsday about the rental-housing shortage.