Featured Story

Suffolk Closeup: Affordable housing crisis in the county

“Welcome to Suffolk County’s affordable housing website. The need for affordable housing has reached crisis proportions throughout the county.” Those are the opening lines of Suffolk County government’s website involving affordable housing here.

Indeed, it is a crisis!

When we purchased our first house in Suffolk, in 1964, in Sayville, the price was $19,000. And there were plenty of houses at the time up for sale in the $15,000 to $17,000 range. But we opted for a roomier place to raise our family after renting for three years (initially, a cottage in Islip for $75 a month).

That was a long time ago, of course, and there’s been a change in what a dollar is worth, and salaries have gone up appreciably. Still, says Jim Morgo, the first president and CEO of Long Island Housing Partnership (LIHP), founded in 1988, even with the change in value of a dollar and increases in salaries, the percentage of the rise in the price of housing in Suffolk substantially exceeds that. As for rents, they’re now “close to $3,000 a month,” he noted.

Mr. Morgo’s successor after his 17 years at LIHP, Peter J. Elkowitz Jr., said in a Long Island Metro Business Action presentation last month titled, “Affordable Housing, Opportunities & Obstacles,” the average price of a house in Suffolk had just gone up to $525,000.

“The big issue is supply of homes under $400,000. They are very difficult to find these days,” Mr. Elkowitz said. This $525,000 price had “gone up 19% from the same time last year,” he said. (The $400,000 price is considered, debatably, as “affordable.”)

A big factor: COVID-19 and “people looking for more space to live in,” he said. COVID refugees have flocked to Suffolk County since the pandemic began.

There is “an extremely limited” market overall of houses for sale here, with would-be buyers commonly “offering cash on the spot,” Mr. Elkowitz said.

“LI homes sales soar as Suffolk median price breaks the $500,000 barrier,” was the headline of a Newsday story by its real estate reporter Maura McDermott in June. It started: “Want to buy a home in Suffolk County? It is likely to cost you at least half a million dollars.”

As for houses on the East End, a follow-up story Ms. McDermott wrote in August began: “Even the ‘affordable’ East End isn’t so affordable anymore. A year’s worth of COVID-19 bidding wars has driven prices up into the $1 million range in East End communities that once were reasonably priced destinations for those seeking idyllic places to live and vacation on Long Island.”

According to realtor.com, the “median sold home price” now for a house on Shelter Island is $1.4 million.

What about when (hopefully) this pandemic is over or recedes substantially? Ms. McDermott quoted Jonathan Miller, president and CEO of Miller Samuel, a real estate appraisal company that conducts research on market trends, saying the ability to work from home “is not going away even if the pandemic is brought under control or eradicated. Remote work is now an embedded factor in the location calculation of consumers.”

According to realtor.com, the “median sold home price” for a house in Sag Harbor is now $1.3 million. We moved from Sayville to Sag Harbor in 1974, buying a house on an acre and a quarter for $45,000.

The Suffolk County “affordable housing” website says: “Families and businesses have all felt the repercussions of this challenge as young workers and our elderly have left Long Island for more affordable housing elsewhere.”

Mr. Morgo points out: “In places like North Carolina and parts of Pennsylvania you can get double the size of a home at half the price here.”

“The issue,” says the county’s website, “did not develop overnight, nor can it be solved overnight. It will take all of us working together to find a multitude of solutions to keep our families together.”

Next week: What is being done, what can be done, to deal with this crisis?