Calone: Suffolk needs to take the lead in finding housing options

Dave Calone
Long Island Business News

The cost of housing is among the most crucial issues facing Long Island’s future, and it is an issue I have personally worked to address. As chair of the Suffolk County Planning Commission, I eliminated red tape and helped to get shovels in the ground for housing developments. Now, I have serious concerns about an Albany-centric, one size fits all plan to increase housing options, but I am confident that we can address our housing needs if we employ a Suffolk-centric approach.

We need more housing options to allow working families to thrive, young people to stay, and seniors to comfortably retire in Suffolk County. However, the existing piecemeal approval processes have left us with too little housing which, due to simple supply and demand, costs too much. With a median home price of $545,000 and few rental units available in Suffolk County, our young people are compelled to move away. This exodus imperils our future and places Long Island businesses at a competitive disadvantage when needed workers cannot afford to live here.

The housing crisis has grown over decades and needs to be addressed with urgency. However, the proposed solutions from Albany don’t make sense for Long Island, and Suffolk County in particular.

One size fits all mandates that ignore local realities and discretion would be both ineffective and counterproductive on Long Island. Suffolk County is home to 1.5 million people spread across more than 40 municipalities. Requiring each municipality to increase housing by 3% over a three-year period cannot be done without seriously undermining other regional goals like water quality protection and traffic mitigation. A state commission overriding home rule – Albany usurping zoning power from localities – due to a failure to satisfy this often-unreachable mandate is a non-starter.

Instead, we can set and achieve regional goals that meet the moment and maintain local governance, with the state serving as a crucial partner providing incentives and resources to help us reach those goals. Here’s how:

First, we organize and plan locally. Through the Suffolk County Planning Commission – a representative body made up of members from each of Suffolk’s ten towns and two from its villages – we should create a regional housing plan designed to maximize the needs, capacity, and desires of each part of the county. In such a plan, we will identify areas for future housing development and encourage the re-development of under-utilized properties.

To execute such a plan, we need New York State to partner and deliver the incentives needed to facilitate development. For instance, the state can offer funds to municipalities that contribute most towards the county-wide goal, most quickly approve housing, and create housing for a variety of income levels. Moreover, it can provide necessary infrastructure investments that will allow future growth in municipalities that want to develop.

In addition to organizing a regional effort, the county must play its part by seeking innovative solutions to address our housing needs. For example, Suffolk County, our largest landowner, should audit all its properties and determine which could be repurposed to develop housing at a reduced rate for our taxpayers. Moreover, we must seek avenues to eliminate red tape and specifically, for homes that are consistent with the regional housing plan, the county Department of Health Services must streamline and prioritize the review and approval process.

With major investments and opportunities coming to Long Island, this is an exciting time for our region, but we must act to capitalize on our opportunity. To support working families, provide local businesses with employees, and secure countywide safety and prosperity, it’s imperative that we address the housing needs across our region – and the best solutions will start here in Suffolk.