New housing on L.I.? Not in my backyard.


A poll conducted by nextLI/Newsday discovered a not-so-puzzling contradiction. A majority of Long Island residents want more local housing options, probably because their own children, just starting families, can’t afford to buy homes in the communities in which they grew up and their parents live. On the other hand, a majority also oppose “dense housing options” like those proposed by Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Opposition to “dense housing options,” a euphemism for low-cost apartments near transportation hubs, comes from both Republicans and Democrats, because support for such developments could be the kiss of death in local elections. There is deep-seated fear in the metropolitan-area suburbs that less-expensive housing will bring ethnic and racial minorities into previously predominantly white communities.
So far, low-cost housing options on Long Island are targeted for communities that are already primarily Black and Latino. A four-story building with 42 units and a 228-unit development are going up in Hempstead, an 81-unit project is planned for Wyandanch, and a 55-unit building is being built in a blighted area of East Patchogue. Hempstead is 46 percent Black and 45 percent Latino. Wyandanch is 60 percent Black and 18 percent Latino. Patchogue is majority white, but the area where the housing will be built is increasingly Latino.
The State Legislature, which is controlled by Democrats, adjourned for the year in June without passing legislation to address the state’s chronic housing shortage, as lawmakers failed to even introduce any housing legislation. Democratic legislators wanted to boost the housing supply by offering developers tax credits that are supposed to promote construction of affordable housing and turn unused office space into apartments. The Democrats also wanted to include protection against evictions and spiking rents.
Hochul, a Democrat, was unhappy about pairing new construction with rent controls. She proposed a broader housing plan that would add over 800,000 units of new housing by requiring that suburban communities meet construction mandates, including expanding their housing stock by 3 percent every three years and building 50 homes per acre within a half-mile of Long Island Rail Road stations.

Democratic legislators were leery of Hochul’s plan because last fall, Republican candidates on Long Island won three Assembly seats and three Senate seats previously held by Democrats.
While Democrats shied away from Hochul’s proposal to mandate affordable housing in the suburbs, Republicans were in virulent opposition, accusing her of imperial ambitions, and of trying to transform Long Island communities in a plan to alleviate New York City’s housing crisis. Hempstead Town Supervisor Donald Clavin, a Republican, denounced the Hochul plan as “ill-conceived.” State Sen. Steven Rhoads, a Republican from Massapequa, called the governor’s proposal “a reckless and irresponsible attempt to defy both local government’s right to control local zoning and the right of each and every Long Islander to preserve their safety and suburban quality of life.”
Massapequa is 94 percent white and less than 1 percent Black. Over the past 10 years, less new housing has been built in metropolitan New York’s suburban communities than in most major metropolitan areas in the United States.
Racism remains such a potent political force in New York suburbs that the Democratic leaders in the State Legislature, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, both African-American, were unwilling to support affordable housing mandates, fearing that white opposition would cost Democrats majority control of both houses. Look for opposition to “dense housing options” to join attacks on critical race theory as Republican rally points in the 2024 election cycle to stir up white voting support.

Alan Singer is a professor of teaching, learning and technology and the director of social studies education programs at Hofstra University. He is a former New York City high school social studies teacher and an assistant editor of Teaching Social Studies, a joint publication of the New York and New Jersey Councils for the Social Studies.