We've had a back-and-forth debate on affordable housing on the letters pages of The Suffolk Times in the past few months. A retiree from East Marion, John Copertino, has been a vocal opponent of municipal-sponsored affordable housing initiatives, like the Factory Avenue plan in Mattituck, claiming that these housing developments will cause taxes to rise and hurt seniors on fixed incomes. He's also said things like the younger generation needs to learn the meaning of sacrifice and suggested that if the young people can't afford to live here they should quit whining and move away. (He notes that he couldn't afford to live where he preferred to when he and his wife were just starting out, so they moved to a more affordable location and he commuted a greater distance to work, etc.)
While I don't agree with Mr. Copertino, I also don't see any real solutions to the housing crisis on the horizon. A dozen or two subsdized homes here or there won't make a dent in the problem. And it IS a crisis. Because communities need a diverse demographic to maintain good health. And our community is poised to become very unhealthy in that respect.
Riverhead's stated plan to build rental housing downtown could help young people (and seniors for that matter). But what about the American Dream of home ownership? Is that lost forever on the North Fork for the generation now coming up and starting their own families? My kids are young teens. I'm figuring there's no way they're going to be able to afford to buy a house in the community where their family has lived for generations. (While I'm a transplant — I grew up in Brooklyn and Coram — my husband has lived in Riverhead his whole life, as did his parents. His dad's mother's family, the Young family, were some of the first settlers of the North Fork.) This is our home, our town. We want to spend the rest of our lives here, but not if it means sacrificing being around our children and grandchildren. I think that if things were not so out-of-whack on Long Island, our kids would at least have the option of settling here too. But that's out of the question as far as I can tell. My hope for the long term future is that they choose to plant roots not to far from each other, so that we may follow them and be near both of their families, and be able to know our grandchildren growing up.
What's happened to real estate prices on LI represents the free market economy at its worst. It's supply and demand. The location of this little spit of land, next to one of the greatest metropolises on earth, surrounded by beautiful bodies of water, make it a most desirable place. For people like me and my family, that means being priced out of the market.
The ramifications of this state of affairs are far-reaching. For business owners, it means being unable to find qualified people to fill skilled labor jobs. I have personal experience there too. We can't recruit people from out of the area because they can't afford to buy a home or live here. We must "hire from within" and the pool of applicants is shrinking. For people like Mr. Copertino, it will eventually mean a crisis in the shortage of people available to do the work that needs to be done for the seniors on fixed incomes. The firefighters, rescue volunteers, nurses, nurses' aides and other health care workers, the auto mechanics, plumbers, electricians, and all other home improvement contractors, landscapers — the WORKERS — are going to become more and more scarce. And (thanks to the supply and demand economy) expensive. Some people decry the "illegals" working locally and advocate shipping them all back to Mexico or Guatemala. Not so fast! They're going to be the only people left who are able to do the work that needs to be done. And things that people volunteered to do (fire and rescue services) for instance, will have to be done by paid municipal workers. And that will make local taxes go up.
So, we NEED young people here. And we have to figure out a way to make it feasible to stay here. Living in Dad's basement isn't the answer. Neither is 22 "affordables" here and there. This is something I've beent thinking about for almost 20 years now. (Riverhead did its first affordable housing development during my term on the Town Board.) I don't see an answer yet.