Feeling Crowded, Long Island Looks To Smart Growth

There's a way to ease the housing shortage on New York's Long Island without building on its few remaining open spaces.

Researchers have found enough room on parking lots and near train stations to fit 90,000 new townhomes and apartments into the older, sometimes scruffy downtowns of Long Island, according to a new report by the researchers at Long Island 2010.

Regional planning ideas like this could help towns build for the future - and get at millions of dollars in federal funding earmarked to help pay for this kind of planning and development. At the same time, it could help preserve the remaining natural spaces on the island, which juts out into the Atlantic, and cut down on its notorious traffic.

The report, Places to Grow, An Analysis of the Potential for Transit-Accessible Housing and Jobs in Long Island's Downtown and Station Areas, found roughly 8,300 acres of unbuilt land in over 150 village downtowns and rail station areas that could be used for mixed-use development.

"Growth is likely to occur even if communities on Long Island try to limit it," reads the report. "Without additional housing in its downtowns, more of this growth will come in the form of illegal housing and continued sprawl in undeveloped areas."The entire New York metro area is expected to add millions of new people over the next few decades - and despite the crash in housing prices, Long Island still has a shortage of places to live. The burden of paying for housing in Long Island is among the heaviest in the nation: 38 percent of Long Island households pay more than 35 percent of their income for housing, compared to 29 percent for the nation as a whole, according to the report.

"Without providing more housing that is affordable to younger families and low- and moderate-income workers, we will not be able to retain either the people or jobs that are already here," warn the authors.

The question is how to best provide that housing.

"If we build low-density single-family homes on every single acre of unprotected open space, we could build another 90,000 new homes," according to the report. "By contrast, that same number, 90,000 units, could be achieved by building a mixture of townhouses, garden apartments and apartment buildings on about half of the 8,300 acres of under-developed land in downtown areas.

This kind of thinking could put Long Island towns near the front of the line for millions of federal dollars earmarked for just this kind of regional planning and development.

The federal government will hand out close to $150 million in grants to local governments through its Sustainable Communities Initiative. It's part of the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities, which has teamed up the Dept. of Transportation, the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency to use land more efficiently and place housing closer to jobs and existing infrastructure.

It's not the first time that Long Island has cut to the front of line for government planning dollars. In spring of 1929, New York's Regional Plan Association, which contributed to the Places to Grow report, released a monumental plan for New York and the surrounding metropolitan region. Only a few months later, financial havoc hit the markets and the United States plunged into the Great Depression. When the Roosevelt Administration began spending on programs to build infrastructure and get people back to work, the towns around New York had the most comprehensive plan in the country and received an outsize share of the federal funding.
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