Affordable Housing in Suburbia


Like many older suburbs in high priced regions, Long Island faces two great crises: a loss of younger residents and a lack of affordable housing for the local workforce, including those employed as nurses, teachers and other professionals.

Often, proposed developments on Long Island are tailored to be geared towards “luxury” or are age-restricted for residents 55 or older. These proposals serve to almost completely ignore the middle class or the region’s young professionals. While the depth of the "Brain Drain", or flight of the young from Nassau and Suffolk Counties is debatable, the fact remains that housing stock for the area’s younger families is woefully deficient. Thanks to limited job opportunities and affordable housing, Long Island isn’t the attractive bedroom to Manhattan that it once was.  

Long Island’s housing woes have been in the public eye for the last few months and it’s critical for residents and policymakers alike to understand the issues. The Town of Huntington recently issued a press release announcing that applications are being accepted for 43 affordable rental apartments that are part of the 379-unit Avalon at Huntington Station development. The rents range from $932 a month for a one-bedroom to $1,148 for a two-bedroom to $1,646 for a three-bedroom.

“Affordable” vs. “Attainable”

For once, the rents being billed as “affordable” seem aligned with the term. Hypothetically, a Young Islander making $45,000 and renting the single-bedroom option would pay roughly 24.8 percent of his or her salary toward housing, far less than the 35 percent threshold that is considered by the Long Island Index as a “high housing cost burden.”

Compare these rents to the “attainable” 300- to 400-square-foot micro-unit options that were presented by a group recently, which, when rented at $1,400 a month, would account for about 37 percent of someone’s $45,000 salary (both examples are calculated without utilities, Internet, cable, etc.).

The Avalon project contains a total of 303 rentals and 76 for-sale townhouses. Forty-three apartments and 11 townhouses will be affordable, while the remaining 260 apartments and 65 townhouses will be market-rate. The project site is a 26.6-acre parcel roughly half a mile from the Huntington Long Island Rail Road station.

A drop in the bucket

The Avalon Huntington Station project has rents that seem affordable, but the total amount of units are a drop in the larger bucket when it comes to addressing the Long Island’s greater affordable housing need of 41,429 units. After Avalon is constructed, there will be 41,375 units to go. Is that progress?

Compare both projects: The microunit approach is “attainable” at $1,400 a month, while Avalon is “affordable” at $932-$1,646 a month. Both terms lack the standardization and definite boundaries necessary to legitimize them in the minds of the public. Is attainable really worth $500 more than the term affordable? Where does “workforce” fall into this ever-sliding scale?

Our patchwork approach to affordable housing needs to change. For every press release issued touting two affordable units here or 11 workforce homes shoehorned there, the elephant in the room is tackling the monumental demand in the face of our paltry, undefined supply.

Some big questions

The issue of overall demand is a very big question that our region has faced for the last 50 years and will continue to face in the immediate future. What Long Islanders must move toward is first quantifying the issue. How many truly affordable units do we have? How many can we reasonably build? What is the true market demand for housing in Nassau and Suffolk counties? Are municipalities able to successfully increase density while preserving land elsewhere?

Countless times, important planning terms like “sustainable,” “smart growth,” “walkable,” “green” and now “affordable” and “attainable” are cheapened by misuse. These terms once represented important and innovative planning techniques that were once progressive tools in crafting a better community. When the terms are misused by stakeholders and industry insiders the result is a volatile cocktail of higher density suburban sprawl and poor urban design that further leads to suburban blight, and the public’s broken faith in the system.

A democracy gets the policy it deserves. Currently, Long Islanders are disengaged with the land-use process, and have allowed it to become dominated by biased stakeholders who have much to gain by allowing those important terms to become shallow. It’s easy to sell a project as “green” or “smart” when few, if any, people know what the term means.

The beauty of it all is that a democracy also can create the policy it needs. This is why it’s so important to take the time to give these critical issues the attention they deserve, and work towards a better Long Island.

Why do we issue press releases celebrating the creation of 54 affordable units, or 0.13 percent of our regional need? It is because, at this point, not much else is or can be done to tackle this massive problem until we fully understand it.

Richard Murdocco is a digital marketing analyst for Teachers Federal Credit Union, although the views expressed in this post are Murdocco’s alone and not shared by TFCU. Follow him on Twitter @TheFoggiestIdea, visit or email him at

Photo from Avalon Communities

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.


I can find data to prove whatever I want about housing affordability or unaffordability. This isn’t a court of law where one is held to a standard of reporting “all the truth” or what is a preponderance of the evidence. Nonetheless, here is some data about where the SOMEWHERE in Nassau County might be.

I just checked’s single-family home sale database. The median home price in Nassau County is $444,800. But the “Bottom Tier” home value is $271,000 of which there are 1,706 homes listed for sale at that price or lower (not including 6,864 foreclosures according to Including foreclosures this reflects about 1.8% of the total housing stock in Nassau County.

Of the 106 towns and villages in Nassau County, classifies 28 of them as falling in the “Bottom Tier” of home prices. That is 26% of the villages.

Here’s a list of the 28 villages in Nassau County with “Bottom Tier” home prices shown from


Nassau County $271,000
Baldwin $280,400
Bellmore $282,000
East Meadow $299,500
East Rockaway $259,000
Elmont $283,000
Farmingdale $274,400
Franklin Square $283,000
Freeport $263,100
Glen Cove $269,100
Hicksville $294,100
Inwood $269,000
Island Park $258,100
Levittown $289,300
Lynbrook $289,300
Massapequa $277,800
Merrick $272,700
New Cassel $277,000
Oceanside $273,200
Roosevelt $265,000
Seaford $275,300
Town of Hempstead $262,300
Uniondale $257,100
Valley Stream $288,300
Wantagh $317,400
West Hempstead $276,700
Westbury $262,000

Apparently, the above 28 towns and villages, comprising a population of 648,929 people or 48% of the 1,349,233 total population of Nassau County, constitute the “SOMEWHERE” of Nassau County where households find the bulk of the affordable housing.

Affordable Housing

Here is yet another article by an affordable housing developer with the flawed assumption that affordable housing has to be new construction.

As a real estate appraiser I can tell you that empirically speaking affordable housing is old, obsolescent and often not located near public services. That is what makes it affordable.

I am looking at Nassau County Census data as I am writing this. Of the 467,000 housing units in Nassau County 71.9% were built before 1951. There is plenty of old housing stock in the county.

13.6% of the housing stock is multifamily housing comprising 63,234 units. At an average 3 persons per household that accommodates 189,702 people or 14% of the population.

5.2% of the population is categorized as living in poverty (mostly elderly would be my guess).

100,776 persons work in service occupations (teachers, police, firemen, retail clerks, etc).

180,136 persons work in social, educational and health care occupations.

112,201 persons are government workers

110,496 households have incomes of $50,000 a year or less reflecting 25% of the total 443,315 households

So the poor and the working class are already being housed in Nassau County SOMEWHERE. So where is the affordable housing crisis?

To use a phrase borrowed from sociology, the affordable housing crisis in Nassau County is a social construction of housing developers, politicians, and activists based on the assumption that it is racist or discriminatory to build new housing that is not affordable. But by definition new construction is never affordable.

Through a process called neighborhood filtering, newer housing becomes old and obsolete and thus affordable. There appears to be plenty of affordable housing in Nassau County. The more new housing is built in Nassau County the more the existing housing stock becomes old and depreciated and thus affordable. So if you want to produce affordable housing build new housing which indirectly creates affordable housing at the other end of the housing food chain.

Such articles written from a self-serving viewpoint of affordable housing developers don't help in devising good social policies.

Parenthetically, I used to be employed as a low income housing analyst for Los Angeles County working with HUD funds.I also used to teach affordable housing to city managers for the International City Managers Association. Much of housing policy is based on symbolics rather than sound policy.

Some blunt facts about the way this is going

Wayne, I agree with your point about "filtering"; this is an important point that I constantly make myself. However, note that the presence of "lower income" households are not evidence of "housing affordability" TODAY. Evidence of housing affordability TODAY is YOUNG, FIRST HOME buyer households of lower income levels buying into the market.

"Housing affordability" has become a crisis in virtually the entire first world over a time frame of 1996 onwards.

Plenty of households everywhere, are households who were on the home ownership ladder already, either living in the home that cost them 50% less than current prices in real terms, or having both sold and bought again at new high prices, with no real impact of the price inflation.

I also point out repeatedly that the price inflation is highest at the bottom end of real estate markets; that is, in the trickle-down older housing. This is because the inflation is not a matter of "houses doubling in price", but of the land they are sitting on inflating in price by a factor of some tens or even hundreds.

This is why the very cheapest, most awful old house in unaffordable cities like Vancouver, Sydney and Auckland is still some $400,000 plus; when in cities with undistorted markets and new fringe McMansions for $200,000 (as in Houston) the same awful old houses are well under $100,000.

So urban planning that is exclusionary or "save the planet" or both, most certainly does have disparate impact on the lowest income earners among the young (and not so young) "not yet home owners". The impact on ALL "not yet home owners" is bad enough, but the lower income ones are consigned to a lifetime of renting the worst possible forms of accommodation.

Watch the video at the top of THIS article:

That is the fate of young people in a nation that has been "constraining urban growth" since 1947. Urban land prices are typically now 200 to 1000 times higher in UK cities, than similar cities in the USA that lack urban growth containment. It is no idle claim that the most expensive land in Houston (the CBD) is still substantially cheaper than ANY land in ANY UK city. The moment rural land at the fringe of any UK city is zoned "urban", the value leaps from around $40,000 per acre to over $2,000,000 per acre - and this translates into a price of saleable sites in the completed development, of over $4,000,000 per acre. Hence 1/10 of an acre lots for $400,000 plus.

It is sickening that the rest of the world is going crazy for "smart growth" with all this evidence from the UK staring them in the face. The best research on the consequences is from UK academics such as Alan W. Evans and colleagues, and Paul Cheshire and colleagues. You and all interested parties need to ask if these results is what you want for your children and their children.

By the way, "smart growth" advocacy is always based on "cross sectional" data, not "time series" data. Time series data shows it up for what a fraud it is. You, probably unconsciously, have given us a classic example of the "cross sectional data" type of defence of "smart growth" and/or exclusionary zoning.

Affordable Housing Piece

Thank you for reading my piece.

As an introduction, my name is Richard Murdocco, and I am proud of the piece that I wrote. My academic background is in both urban studies and regional planning. My writing is from an urban planning perspective, and I am no way considered an “affordable housing developer”.

I am a planner, and seek to balance the economic, social and environmental needs of Nassau and Suffolk Counties.

The goal of my work is to spread awareness to the general population of Long Island’s nuanced land use issues. To that end, my work has been published in Newsday and various other regional media outlets.

As an outsider such as yourself looking in, Nassau County seems well off when one takes a quick look at the census figures. I agree with your argument that new construction is difficult to make affordable unless subsidized in some way.

For you to say that the poor is being housed in Nassau "SOMEWHERE" is misleading, because Nassau’s demographics are skewed. As one of the country’s wealthiest Counties per capita, Nassau’s demographics and thus, planning challenges are different from most other areas. Long Island’s affordable housing crisis has been our greatest regional failure for over 50 years.

Nassau's housing stock is older, but when you look at the values of the units, the price has climbed well out of reach of middle income and young professionals looking to stay within the County. Our housing stock, especially in Nassau, is comprised of higher-quality units that are durable. The average age of units in Suffolk is roughly 20 years newer than those found in Nassau.

Nassau’s neighbor Suffolk has similar issues, but more open space to utilize. Nassau County’s population has remained steady for three decades, and is almost at maximum capacity thanks to a minimum of open space left. To say that I am only advocating for new construction is wrong.

Once again, thanks for taking the time to read my work.

Please find more on
Rich Murdocco

Richard Murdocco
Follow @TheFoggiestIdea