Long Island Index Issues Case Study Illuminating the Challenge of Building Apartments on Long Island

The Case Study Explores the Experience of One Developer – AvalonBay Communities – to Compare the Approval Processes on Long Island with Those of Other Suburban Areas

Garden City, NY – May 26, 2016 – The Long Island Index, a project of the Rauch Foundation, today released a case study titled “The Long Campaign: What it Takes to Build Apartments on Long Island.” It explores the experience of one developer, AvalonBay Communities, Inc., to compare the approval processes on Long Island with those of other suburban areas. The report was written by Elizabeth Moore, a former reporter for Newsday and currently a journalism lecturer at Stony Brook University. It is especially timely, since the region lacks the housing options that attract businesses and employees to nearby competing suburbs.

The case study highlights the unusual difficulty of navigating the approval process on Long Island, which makes it particularly hard for developers to take on the business risk inherent in building here. AvalonBay Communities has figured out how to make it work for them, but it’s one of the largest Real Estate Investment Trusts in the nation – with deep enough pockets to ride out long permitting processes as well as multiple business cycles. Smaller developers are much more challenged by these conditions, and the report studies many that had to sell out their holdings because they got caught in changing economic tides. And it is Long Islanders who ultimately pay the price. With a more difficult and lengthy permitting process, fewer apartments are built, rents rise, and many of those who want multifamily housing – especially young Long Islanders – are priced out of the market from the outset.

The case study compares, in part, the time that it took AvalonBay Communities to begin construction on 165 new apartments in Rockville Center – two years after taking title to the property – with the tempo in Westchester, where AvalonBay won a zoning variance and building permit for a 14-story community within 16 months. In Arlington, Virginia, apartment builders broke ground in as little as seven months. In Brooklyn, work started on the 41-story “Avalon Fort Greene,” 10 months after AvalonBay bought the site in 2007, while it took just four months to get a building permit for “Avalon Morningside Park,” a 20-story building in upper Manhattan.

Public records on AvalonBay’s developments on Long Island show that it has had to invest anywhere from two to eight years to get a go-ahead for them. The true timeline has been as much as 12 years or more, because about half of its sites were already in the approval pipeline for years before it bought them. That’s not counting the AvalonBay efforts that have fizzled, in places like Yaphank, Plainview, Garden City, Oyster Bay, Port Jefferson and the Long Beach Superblock.

Apartment development is complex anywhere but truly arcane on Long Island, where multiple layers of government exercise authority but information about the process and its rules is often difficult to uncover. In addition, land zoned for apartments is vanishingly scarce on Long Island, so just about every apartment development becomes a case for the zoning board. That alone adds a minimum of one to two years to any development process. An apartment proposal also may require a subdivision proceeding, which can take a year or two. After that, the proposal still must clear site plan review, and then the action shifts to the building department.

“Elizabeth Moore’s reporting provides valuable insights to help guide our thinking about how best to create the multifamily housing that Long Island needs,” said Nancy Rauch Douzinas, President of the Rauch Foundation and Publisher of the Long Island Index. “One key component to solving the problem is the need for communities to consider designating many more locations, ideally downtown, for multifamily housing and to zone them as such ‘as of right’. It’s up to individual communities to decide what kind of housing they want and where, but if most refuse, the region will not be economically competitive. All of our towns, villages, and hamlets will then suffer, including those that resisted a broader set of housing options.”

Download the case study.

For further information, contact Henry Miller – hmiller@highimpactpartnering.com or 917-921-8034.

About the Long Island Index

Now in its 13th year, the Long Island Index is a source of unbiased reliable data for businesses, nonprofits, civic organizations, educators, and townships throughout the region. Funded by the Rauch Foundation, its overarching goals are to measure where we are and show trends over time, encourage regional thinking, compare Long Island’s situation with those in similar regions, increase awareness of issues and their interrelatedness, and inspire Long Islanders to work together to achieve shared goals. The Long Island Index reports are available for download at www.longislandindex.org; its interactive maps – an online resource with detailed demographic, residential, transportation and educational information – are also accessible from the Index’s website.

About the Rauch Foundation

The Rauch Foundation (www.rauchfoundation.org) is a Long Island-based family foundation that invests in ideas and organizations that spark and sustain early success in children and systemic change in our communities. The Foundation was established in 1961 by Louis Rauch and Philip Rauch, Jr. Funding for the Foundation was made possible by the success of the Ideal Corporation, an auto parts manufacturer founded in 1913 by their father, Philip Rauch, Sr.