Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Long Island Next Generation Housing Referendum?

"Many LI leaders are present and accounted for here (only the first half-hour was available for preview), including Nancy Rauch Douzinas, president of the Rauch Foundation; Paul Pontieri Jr., mayor of Patchogue; Matt Crosson, Long Island Association president (and co-host of Ch. 21's "Crosson and Welles"); Wayne Hall, mayor of Hempstead, and many others. Crosson, speaking tonight, sets the table with this thought: "Long Island is losing young people at the same time the baby boomer [retirement] tsunami is beginning, [and] we will be in serious trouble. ... The Island's economy depends on the availability of young people in the workforce, and if we don't have that, the cost of living goes even higher, and [business] growth will be virtually impossible."

The consequence of this vicious cycle is a decline in housing prices."

Good show and well worth watching.

As stated previously, affordable housing for young people is perhaps the top issue facing the economic viability of Long Island.

How about this for an idea.

Long Islanders have shown that they are willing to support environmental and open space bonds by an overwhelming majority.

What if the same procedure was applied to the issue of workforce or next generation housing?

How about the "Next Generation Housing Referendum?" If the problem is as acute as many believe and many believe that the public is in favor of changes to permit higher density development, then perhaps we should provide a forum to raise the capital quickly (it can be a revolving fund, replenished as the units are sold).

The units can be constructed on existing state, local and federal property (at least in the beginning to get the process jump started) which are exempt for the most part from local zoning restrictions. If, as we've been told, Long Island needs upwards of 100,000 units of workforce housing, then swift, decisive "public supported" action needs to take place.

Another option is to use the referendum funding (presuming the referendum passes) to purchase property, convert it to municipal property for the purposes of building the housing (payment in lieu of taxes to the community), then return it to private hands via homeowners association or other device where it then returns to the taxrolls.

The referendum "board of managers" should be comprised primarily of citizens, business leaders and others who would determine and ensure a fair process.

If as strong a case can be made that a "next generation" fund is required for the long term health of Long Island as was made for open space preservation, then passage should be a relatively simple affair.

Part of the reason private sector incentives have not worked or have only had minimal impact is that there just isn't the return on investment for workforce housing as there is for traditional housing.

Additionally, there is some question in the public's mind as to the extent of the need. A full and complete debate within the context of a referendum would allow a clearer picture of the need and the solutions.

Of course I've oversimplified the issue and there are many details to be worked out, but if the retention of younger Long Islanders is a true priority, then the government, with the consent and support of the citizens must take decisive and direct action in accomplishing the task at hand.

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