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Wed, 03 May 2006

Concerns over housing plan - Newsday

Concerns over housing plan
Suozzi’s $10M plan for affordable units - now awaiting legislature approval - faces criticisms

BY CELESTE HADRICK
Newsday Staff Writer
May 3, 2006

A $10-million "next generation" housing initiative, proposed by Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi and sent to the county legislature for approval, appears dead on arrival - at least in its current form.
While stating support for affordable housing, county Republicans describe Suozzi’s plan as a "pie-in-the-sky press release," and even his fellow Democrats have problems with it.
Among the complaints is that the program would be financed by proceeds from property that has yet to be sold. Another is that the proposal does not include any affordable housing in prestigious areas such as Garden City. And, critics note, the county has no direct power over housing because only cities, towns and villages can approve zoning, site plans and building permits.
Legis. David Mejias (D-North Massapequa), a Suozzi ally, attributes political motives to his colleagues’ objections, contending they don’t want to give Suozzi a good-news issue to use in his campaign for governor.
But Legis. Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington), who has endorsed Eliot Spitzer for governor, responds that enacting a housing policy without having the financing in place means creating an unfunded mandate.
"The county executive hasn’t been successful about this issue since the inception of his administration," Johnson said yesterday. "I don’t see how he could be successful during a gubernatorial run, which given recent polls should be winding up shortly."
Presiding Officer Judy Jacobs of Woodbury remained optimistic yesterday that an agreement can be reached but said she will not put the plan to a vote until then.
Suozzi said in a statement that he will work with Jacobs and lawmakers to discuss alternatives.
Deputy County Executive Patrick Duggan said yesterday the county had worked for 18 months to develop the plan presented to the legislature last week, having met with officials from Suffolk and Westchester counties, which have affordable-housing policies, and with local interest groups.
Under the plan, the county would create a $10-million fund to help municipalities or non-profit groups locate sites for affordable homes, to assist developers to build them, and give an advantage to qualified homeowners with low-cost second mortgages and housing repairs.
Duggan said similar programs are financed through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development but are limited to needy communities and low-income families. Nassau wants to create affordable housing throughout the county and to increase income limits, he said. For example, families of four could make as much as $100,000 to qualify.
The proposed $10 million would come from the sale of 24 acres the county owns in Garden City at 101 County Seat Dr. Various lawsuits have held up the sale, and a state judge recently ruled that an environmental study must be done first, which would take a minimum of four to six months, experts said.
Johnson said the county should wait until it has the money in hand. Republican spokesman Ed Ward complained that most of the $10 million is earmarked for consultants and planners, rather than actual housing assistance.
Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead) said he is upset that none of those 24 acres has been set aside for affordable housing, and has proposed that 25 percent of all future county land sold for residential development be so designated.
Before backing Suozzi’s plan, Abrahams said, he wants proof that affordable housing will be developed at another county-owned site in Garden City.
Jeffrey Toback (D-Oceanside) said he worries the county would be beholden to municipalities that control zoning and site plans. "It doesn’t seem to me feasible to get people’s hopes up about these projects when the county really has virtually no control over them," he said.
But Legis. Diane Yatauro (D-Glen Cove), while acknowledging the concerns, said, "We have to get started. The sooner we do, the more we’ll be able to get things going."


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