How suburban zoning rules are stifling development and causing rents to spike

The cost of housing has risen dramatically over the last several years, helping drive levels of inflation not seen in decades. One key factor is that in many places, building has not kept up with demand. The suburban counties of Long Island east of New York City are national laggards. Paul Solman reports on the push to create more housing.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The cost of housing has risen dramatically over the past few years, helping drive levels of inflation not seen in decades.

    One key factor is, in many places, building has not kept up with demand. The suburban counties of Long Island, east of New York City, lag behind the nation. They have built less housing over the past decade than almost any comparable area in the country.

    After decades of fights that there are over affordable housing, Paul Solman reports on efforts to push for more development.

  • Paul Solman:

    A 14-acre eyesore in Huntington, Long Island, obtained by a local nonprofit to build housing.

  • Pilar Moya-Mancera, Executive Director, Housing Help:

    Matinecock Court, 146 units of affordable housing.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Paul Solman:

    Right now, it looks like scrubland, no?

  • Pilar Moya-Mancera:

    Yes, right now, that's what it is. And it's been this for 43 years.

  • Paul Solman:

    You heard right, 43 years.

    Pilar Moya-Mancera runs Housing Help, the nonprofit which set out to build here when Jimmy Carter was president. Legal opposition and approval delays have blocked it through Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump and Biden.

  • Meanwhile:

  • Pilar Moya-Mancera:

    The cost of housing on Long Island has significantly increased year after year after year, even for a young professional, because there's hardly any supply of rental housing.

    Right over there, you can see the sign that bus drivers are needed. And this is all throughout Long Island, not just here.

  • Paul Solman:

    Though battles over affordable housing are a national commonplace, the counties that make up Long Island have a higher percentage of detached single family homes than almost any large county in the country.

    Where did you live?

  • Hunter Gross, President, Huntington Township Housing Coalition:

    So, I lived on the second floor.

  • Paul Solman:

    How much did it cost?

  • Hunter Gross:

    It was around $3,000 a month.

  • Paul Solman:

    For how big an apartment?

  • Hunter Gross:

    For a one-bedroom apartment.

  • Paul Solman:

    For young folks who grew up here and wanted to stay, like 27-year-old Hunter Gross, buying was a pipe dream, renting, a nightmare.

    You couldn't afford it anymore?

  • Hunter Gross:

    No. Unfortunately, I couldn't. You go — it has a good public high school. You go to a good university. You got a good-paying job. Yet the market rate apartments in the town of Huntington are pricing out young professionals who are making upwards of $100,000.

  • Paul Solman:

    Where has the opposition come from?

  • Hunter Gross:

    So I would say a large part of the opposition are the NIMBYs in the town of Huntington and across Long Island. And these are people who don't want affordable housing in their backyard.

  • Paul Solman:

    The NIMBYs, the not-in-my-backyard-ers, determined to preserve the quiet suburb they moved to and make their resistance heard.

  • Speaker:

    It is not just an issue of affordable housing, even if it was exclusive housing. There are issues of density, traffic and schools.

  • Speaker:

    We have to talk about making it affordable for everybody. When this gets built, and there's 146 units, that's great for the 146 people that are going to live there, but what about everybody?

  • Paul Solman:

    Hector Gavilla, lifelong local resident and real estate broker.

    Hector Gavilla, Long island Resident: Developers like to build. And if they could put more people in the same space, they're going to — they're going to want to do that. And that definitely creates more high density and more people, and it definitely creates more congestion and more traffic.

  • Paul Solman:

    But mainly, insists Gavilla, it's government subsidies to developers and lower-income residents that taxpayers will ultimately pay for that drive his opposition to projects like Matinecock Court.

  • Hector Gavilla:

    We don't have an affordability problem. What we really have is a tax problem.

    And we have some of the highest property taxes on Long Island. So all this is doing is just contributing to that. I'm OK with building any building, as long as it doesn't cause taxpayers to suffer more in having to subsidize, because we're already suffering enough here by continuing to pay all these taxes.

  • Paul Solman:

    Moya-Mancera, though, thinks Long Islanders have long had a problem that precedes taxes.

  • Pilar Moya-Mancera:

    Let's tell it for what it is. We do have a history of housing segregation, and there was a lot of fear, not only here, but all throughout Long Island.

  • Speaker:

    Levittown, a community designed for modern living.

  • Paul Solman:

    It's fear with a history. In the 1940s, farms across the island were being turned into neighborhoods. The iconic community of Levittown was the model, single family homes built as a community that G.I.s returning from World War II could afford, people of color explicitly kept out.

    More recently, after a Newsday hidden camera investigation, New York state cited three real estate brokerages for discriminating against homebuyers of color. No surprise to Pilar Moya-Mancera, who immigrated from Peru and eventually settled on Long Island in 1996.

  • Pilar Moya-Mancera:

    I moved to a white upscale community. Within days that I moved into my house, I got a message on my door saying that I don't belong here, that I need to move out.

    I refused to move out. They left a second note saying that they were going to burn down my house.

  • Paul Solman:

    No.

  • Pilar Moya-Mancera:

    But I got a third note that they were going to kill me. When I received the third note, I was so pregnant, and I said, I'm not going to put the life of my baby at risk. So I told my neighbors, I'm moving out.

  • Paul Solman:

    But enough convinced her to stay, even volunteered to keep an eye on her house, and she became an affordable housing activist who finally sees more Long Island neighbors coming around, now that they are aging, as she is.

  • Pilar Moya-Mancera:

    Now I don't have to go from being a helicopter mom to being an airplane grandmother. There is a place for my grandchildren. There is a place for my adult children to move in, so they can leave my basement, right, a place for me to live for when I'm a senior citizen.

  • Paul Solman:

    But just as important may be the cost to Long Island's economy.

    Anne Shybunko-Moore employs 82 people making parts for the military on Long Island, says she could hire 10 more, has even lured employees from other states.

    Anne Shybunko-Moore, CEO and Owner, GSE Dynamics, Inc.: I paid their rent for a year. And then it was on them to find their own place. And…

  • Paul Solman:

    Year here on you, you're paying the rent, and then?

  • Anne Shybunko-Moore:

    Went back. There was a sticker shock of the cost of living to buy a house, because, understand, renting, even renting a place here is upwards of $3,500 a month.

  • Paul Solman:

    So, the CEO has a message for neighbors bemoaning density and taxes.

  • Anne Shybunko-Moore:

    You all taxpayers are benefiting from my employees working hard, right? The number of employees I hire, the number of employees that are getting paychecks, buying food at all these stores, right?

    I'm your economic impact that's making this region successful. And I'm telling you, as a business owner, my people can't afford to buy a house, right? They're going to leave. It's hard enough to compete for talent. Now I have to find someone talented and able to afford housing.

  • Paul Solman:

    In fact, she's so desperate, she's looking for help from above.

  • Anne Shybunko-Moore:

    And I'm looking at my roof right, a 57,000-square foot building, wondering — like, obviously there's structural engineering issues and sewer issues. But I'm thinking, the footprint of this building, how many apartments can I put up there?

  • Paul Solman:

    Come on. Seriously?

  • Anne Shybunko-Moore:

    Come on. Right? I'm thinking…

  • Paul Solman:

    Apartments right up there?

  • Anne Shybunko-Moore:

    I could. Why not? Can I put a second floor on here, where I can put 20 of my employees right on top?

  • Paul Solman:

    Wow.

  • Anne Shybunko-Moore:

    We got to do something. We got to find square footage somewhere.

  • Paul Solman:

    Back at Matinecock, I asked the gas station owner across the street about the opposition.

  • Mustafa Kondur, Owner, USA Gas:

    Yes, it used to be a lot. Now, I mean, I don't see too many people anymore against this project.

  • Paul Solman:

    Because they need the worker?

  • Mustafa Kondur:

    Yes. And, also, they understand about how expensive of — living in Long Island.

  • Paul Solman:

    For the moment, the weeds still rule. But, by early next year, shovels will uproot them, and 146 units of affordable housing will rise here, yes, to Moya-Mancera others, 43 years late, but better than ever.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," Paul Solman on Long Island.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Affordable housing, a problem — excuse me — a problem all across the country.

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