We don’t need Albany’s concrete fist in Nassau


New York has lost Oyster Bay.
Well, more accurately, the state has lost 300,000 people — the town’s population — in just a single year.
Only California lost more people from domestic migration in the past year, and it wasn’t by much. But at least according to census numbers, New York can only watch as an average of 820 people move to another state. Each day.
Those are the kinds of numbers you’d expect from a state that’s struggling financially. But New York is anything but. In fact, it’s hard to find a time when New York was more prosperous. It’s just a prosperity that far too many people can’t afford to take part in.
“Over the last 10 years, our state had created 1.2 million jobs, but only 400,000 new homes,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said in her recent State of the State address.
Without a robust supply of homes, prices remain high. That’s great for developers and landlords, but bad for everyone else. The simple fact is, if our family members, friends and neighbors can’t afford to live in our communities, they’ll find a neighborhood where they can.
“Many forces led to this state of affairs,” Hochul said. “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.”
There are certainly benefits to such power, like preserving neighborhoods’ suburban single-family feel. But that feel isn’t cheap. The median sales price of homes in Nassau County in 2021 was $620,000, according to the state’s taxation and finance department. Outside New York City, the closest counties are Rockland, at $550,000, and Suffolk, at $510,000.
To afford a home like that, you’d have to make at least $45 an hour — nearly three times the minimum wage. A typical salary in New York pays a little less than $25.
But you can’t work in New York if you can’t live in New York. And with the dearth of truly affordable housing, that just isn’t happening. It’s not that our local government officials don’t want affordable housing. It’s just that many don’t like the best way to create such housing: apartment buildings.
“Between full-on bans of multifamily homes, and onerous zoning and approval processes, they make it difficult — even impossible — to build new homes,” Hochul said. “Think about that. People want to live here, but local decisions to limit growth mean they cannot. Local governments can — and should — make different choices.”
Those choices need to begin here. Between 2010 and 2018, the governor said, counties like Nassau granted fewer building permits per capita than virtually all suburban counties across New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Northern Virginia and Southern California.
“With less supply, demand drives up prices,” Hochul said. “And who gets squeezed? Middle-income families and low-income families.”
Yet, not to fear, Hochul has a plan to fix it. She calls it the New York Housing Compact, and its intent is to build 800,000 new homes in the state over the next decade, setting “clear expectations for the growth we need, while at the same time giving localities plenty of tools, flexibility and resources to stimulate growth.”
Doing that requires downstate localities like Nassau to increase their housing stocks by 3 percent every three years. That can happen through redevelopment of dilapidated sites like old malls and office parks, incentivizing new housing production, or simply updating zoning rules.
In return, Hochul said, the state will offer new funding for schools, roads and sewers while removing some of the bureaucratic barriers standing in the way of new housing.
But failure to meet these goals on Hochul’s timetable means facing the governor’s mighty concrete fist. Albany will override local authority, and implement what she calls a “new fast-track approval process” to get home construction under way.
That’s one step too far. Forcing such change by trampling local government not only makes a bad mess worse, but also sets a bad precedent for the kind of power the governor wields over these communities.
What the concrete fist needs is a velvet glove in the form of incentives, as well as good education on what properly planned housing can bring.
There is a constant fear of city encroachment on our suburban way of life, but even a good suburb finds room for everyone from every walk of life.
How often do we hear friends talk about how much they enjoy visiting the vibrant town centers of places like Rockville Centre, Long Beach and Farmingdale? All of that is thanks to multifamily housing done right — not just for those who don’t necessarily make a lot of money, but for our young neighbors, who are just starting out in the world, and our older neighbors, looking to downsize and enjoy a simpler life.
This can happen by shining light on these successes, and how housing diversity grows neighborhoods rather than destroying them.
But let’s do it without the threats, without the negativity. Let’s provide the right incentives to make housing more affordable in our communities, and show why our Nassau County neighborhoods are indeed the best places to live.