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Op-Ed

Affordable homeownership for all must be a priority

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June was National Homeownership Month. For many, homeownership is a part of the American dream that is proving to be increasingly difficult to attain. Long Island home prices have hit historic highs for the second year in a row, reinforcing a 2019 report from New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli that found that nearly 40 percent of Long Island homeowners could not afford their homes. Homeownership should not be a luxury few can afford.

Long Island’s skyrocketing home prices and a longstanding history of redlining and housing discrimination make homeownership even more challenging for Black people and other people of color. This nature of division was a deliberate choice, and is built into the foundation of Long Island. In 2019, Newsday’s “Long Island Divided” explored the stark segregation and injustices on the Island, noting that 90 percent of Black residents live in just 62 of its 291 communities.

Long Island’s racist past did not happen in a vacuum. The state and federal governments had an equal role in instituting racist housing policies. The Federal Housing Administration was a significant player in ensuring that Black Americans stayed out of white suburbs. Communities across the country were developed with the help of the FHA on the condition that homes would not be sold to African-Americans. Levittown was one of these communities, and it remains nearly all-white today. Strategic segregation across Long Island set a precedent for the housing bubbles that we see today.

Affordable housing on Long Island is often segregated in its own “community” or “development,” becoming a cluster lacking the integration or diversity that is the strength of any suburban community. There is also a stigma attached to the term “affordable housing,” which have been code words to refer to people of non-white descent or of lesser economic means.

Yet another difficulty of homeownership on Long Island is a lack of standardized funding from New York state that would ensure affordability. The affordable housing resources that do exist are parceled out in a nonstructured way to local municipalities and some well-known nonprofits, both of which operate using a business model that favors “profit” or “project completion” over sustained affordability that diversifies communities.

Not only is homeownership on Long Island prohibitively expensive, but communities of color are often not afforded the same resources that are allocated to predominantly white, affluent communities. Ideally, all Americans would have equitable access to affordable homes, good education systems and other resources that allow communities to thrive. It is obscene that this is not the standard or even the norm in the U.S., let alone here on Long Island, home to “America’s first suburb.”

In a proclamation during National Homeownership Month, President Biden said the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development would “advance affordable and sustainable homeownership” throughout the country and break the deep-rooted barriers that have prevented so many people of color in the U.S. from becoming homeowners. These barriers, alongside the economic hardships created by the coronavirus pandemic, are keeping many from the opportunity of homeownership.

The Uniondale Community Land Trust is working hard to provide this resource in its community. Instead of creating a separate neighborhood of affordable housing, in Uniondale the goal is to integrate affordable housing within the existing neighborhood.

With 225 community land trusts across the country, this affordable housing model allows residents to renovate and sell homes at lower-than-market prices while retaining ownership of their land through 99-year ground leases. This model helps create permanent affordable housing and gives community members agency over how their towns can grow and thrive. U-CLT is working diligently to build a project pipeline to provide homeownership opportunities for families making 60 to 80 percent of the area median income. As of 2020, the AMI in Nassau County was $126,600. The goal is to help provide fair, equitable housing here.

Having access to stable, quality, affordable housing helps people become part of diverse communities, find and keep jobs, lead healthier lives, and take better care of their children. There is no question that opportunities to own homes make a serious positive impact in people’s lives. Creating sustainable, affordable housing is an excellent way to ensure that all can become homeowners in their lifetimes.

Homeownership does not need to be unattainable. Current homeowners should be able to afford their homes. Providing people and communities with the resources they need to flourish must be a priority everywhere.

Nicole Jean Christian is executive director of Uniondale Community Land Trust. To learn more about its efforts, go to www.u-clt.org or email info@u-clt.org.