The Village of Great Neck Plaza Board of Trustees, at its last meeting of the 2005 year, Dec. 21, adopted landmark legislation establishing an inclusionary affordable housing program that became effective Jan. 1, 2006. Adoption of this historic legislation also ended a temporary moratorium on the construction/conversion of multiple dwellings that had been in place in the village since March 2005 in order to study the feasibility of providing a workforce housing program, which included planning studies and environmental impact assessments conducted by the village's planning/environmental consultants, Saccardi & Schiff of White Plains, NY.
Mayor Jean Celender, in her opening remarks before the board adopted the local law mandating the creation of affordable housing units within new multiple dwellings constructed in the C2 Zoning District, stated: "We are about to pass landmark legislation. I am proud of the hard work put in by the board of trustees, myself, village staff, our consultant, and most of all, our village attorney, Richard Gabriele. This is not the end; adoption of the legislation is just the start toward addressing a critical housing need and shortage here in our community. We have much more work to do on the program, but we have made inroads and are off to a good start."
She went on to indicate admittedly that the total number of units will be relatively small, and while some may criticize the Plaza for not doing enough, at least the village has taken action. Celender is proud that she and her colleagues are at least taking bold action and are willing to chart new territory to set the standard for the Great Neck peninsula and perhaps create a model for other Nassau County villages.
Celender indicated that the Plaza's program partners with the development community and therefore she is confident that the legislation is workable for the new buildings that will be proposed in the near future. She thanked the developers for working closely with the village during the planning process, on providing detailed and insightful comments of drafts of the legislation, and she looks forward to receiving building applications in the coming weeks and months that will implement the program.
The problem of affordable housing is so acute here in Nassau County. The strong real estate market for the past decade, which saw the prices of houses and cooperatives/condominiums soar, combined with escalating property taxes and the multiple levels of taxing jurisdictions here, has created an environment where middle-income people can't find a home or apartment that they can afford. The average sales price in Great Neck Plaza for a one-bedroom cooperative apartment in 2005 sold for $263,237 and a single-family house for $897,500, according to Phil Raices, owner of Turnkey Real Estate and the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) statistics, while the median family income for the Nassau-Suffolk Primary Metropolitan Statistical Area, as defined by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development is $88,850.
A standard rule for housing affordability is in the range of 3.3 times income, which would equate to a sales price of $235,000. Even if you use county-wide figures, apartment and housing prices do not meet affordability standards. The median price of $482,000 in December 2005 according to statistics released from the MLS, equates to sales prices that are not affordable to a large number of persons.
For the young people who have grown up in Great Neck and go off to colleges and universities earning undergraduate and graduate degrees and wanting to come back to start their careers here, it is nearly impossible for them to afford their own houses or apartments. Most end up moving back in with their parents until they are able to save enough money for living on their own in a house or apartment. Seniors on fixed incomes are also feeling the squeeze, whether they own a home or cooperative/condominium apartment, even with the mortgage being paid, their daily living expenses are significant and they feel the pinch; i.e. monthly maintenance charges, medical expenses, insurance, utilities, and other fixed costs and assessments are making it a struggle for them to make ends meet.
Earlier in the year, Celender explained that the village was seeing development pressures on a number of potential multiple family apartment building sites in the Plaza on underdeveloped properties. Also, there were inquiries to the board about the possibility of converting existing office buildings constructed decades ago, to luxury apartment building complexes. With the advent of three or four major construction projects possibly coming forth, Celender urged the board to consider efforts to address the affordable housing problem.
Stated Celender, "If we don't study this issue now and come up with a method of providing a solution for our village, we will be looking at three or four new buildings in the years ahead and we will be kicking ourselves for having missed an opportunity to address this critical issue."
The board called for establishing a building moratorium and proceeded to review case studies from around the New York metropolitan region to come up with a housing law applicable to the Plaza, which consists largely of multiple apartment dwellings due to its central location as the hub of the peninsula and having within walking distance the Great Neck train station of the LIRR serving as a mass transit solution for its apartment dwellers who commute to Manhattan for employment.
Many housing advocates and other elected officials feel the lack of affordable housing is a real emergency, but with the NIMBYism (not in my backyard) attitude on their hands, it makes it difficult for local government to react. Great Neck Plaza studied a broad range of models and alternatives to create affordable housing. In the end, the village enacted legislation which relies heavily on private-sector solutions.
All affordable housing units will be rental units located within the buildings to be constructed or converted to residential use by private developers. The required set aside for affordable housing units is 7.5 percent of the gross floor area. As an incentive for providing the affordable units, the developer will receive a 20 percent density bonus above the current maximum gross floor area ratio.
The rental of these affordable apartments will be controlled by the village over the next 30 years. After 30 years, the tenant in the unit will be given the right of first refusal to purchase the unit at market rates. While under the program, rents for the affordable units will be set at 30 percent of the adjusted gross income of the eligible person's household. Persons will be eligible if their household income falls within 50 percent to 100 percent of Nassau County's median household income, with adjustments for size and periodic updating of this income amount as determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Eligible persons will be required to file detailed statements on their financial history, including total net assets of any kind, to ensure that this program helps the most needing affordable housing. If necessary, a lottery will be held to select tenants for the rental units, if there are more eligible persons of equal priority than the number of available affordable housing units.
Residents have been generally favorable to this legislation, stated Deputy Mayor Ted Rosen ''because I think people are realizing this wouldn't bring in people from outside the community but would be for their own grown children who are still living at home or are elsewhere and would like to come back home, if they could afford to live here, as well as helping seniors, local firefighters, village employees and others in the community whom we want to retain here.''
The board has held multiple hearings over the past seven months to develop workable legislation. Deputy Mayor Rosen further stated, "Since the number of units within each new building will be relatively low, most creating between four to five units per building, it should not be a problem for our schools, public services, or potentially creating other concerns such as traffic, parking or other problems that new housing could make worse."
''We're trying to create affordable housing within new buildings as an inclusionary effort without affecting the ability of these developers to sell luxury units at top prices within these buildings,'' Celender said. "We are talking about members of the community who we would benefit greatly by having them live within the village; for example, village employees, local volunteer emergency response personnel, school teachers, bank tellers, hospital technicians, secretaries, shop clerks, retirees, etc."
''For at least the last half century, Great Neck Plaza has been a community that has provided a range of housing types, and prices. We have historically provided a mix of affordability here that adds to the multi-cultural diversity that exists in our village. We see this legislation as a means to continue this trend and to address at the same time a critical housing need in our community," Celender said.
The village expects that if these new projects go forward, under its affordable housing program, the Village will have between 15 to 20 units set aside for affordable rental units, which would then be subject to a lottery to be put in place by the village to screen applicants and select eligible persons for the program.
The legislation is the first step in the process. Over the coming months, the village will be developing more detailed regulations to administer the program, establish the procedures and monitoring/administration of the program, thus ensuring that the legislation accomplishes the goals for providing additional affordable units for middle-income eligible persons. The mayor asks residents and interested persons to stay tuned for future updates as to how the village's program is progressing.