Long Island Index Releases Study of Region’s Complex Relationship with Accessory Apartments

That Experience Should Inform Future Policies Relating to the Need for Affordable Housing

Garden City, NY – June 26, 2017 – The Long Island Index, a project of the Rauch Foundation, today released a study that explores the complex relationship between Long Island and accessory apartments, a housing type that has been used both legally and illegally in a wide range of communities to address the need for affordable housing and the desire of seniors to remain in their homes. A classic accessory apartment is a separate, secondary, dwelling unit of much smaller size than the primary home, either in the house itself or in a carriage house or converted garage.

The study – titled “Home Remedies, Accessory Apartments on Long Island: Lessons Learned” – is written by former Newsday reporter and freelance writer Elizabeth Moore. It reveals that almost four decades after some Long Island towns began cautiously allowing accessory apartments in single-family homes, this housing type is broadly accepted in Suffolk County, even as it remains controversial in much of Nassau. At the same time, despite any number of crackdowns, amnesties and code changes, both counties continue to contend with rampant illegal apartments whose owners are uninterested in finding ways to be legal. Several jurisdictions have all but resigned themselves to the illegality by assessing extra taxes on presumed scofflaws who refuse to allow inspectors access to their homes. Still, for many Long Islanders accessory apartments are essential, and Long Island’s experience with them holds a key to addressing the need for affordable housing in the future.

The study reveals lessons learned on Long Island, as well as in other parts of the country. Those lessons illuminate the forms of accessory apartments that have gained traction in local communities and the communities’ capacity to enforce existing zoning codes.

The study includes a map showing where on Long Island accessory apartments are permitted, limited, grandfathered, and not permitted. It also includes an appendix containing the local policy on accessory apartments in every city, town, and incorporated village on Long Island.

The need for accessory apartments stems from the fact that Long Island has gone from being one of the most affordable places to raise a family to one of the least affordable. The single-family neighborhoods that defined Long Island’s appeal are now home to shrinking families struggling to cover the costs of all those empty bedrooms, even as the region’s work force faces a shortage of moderately priced rental housing. As a result, single-family homeowners installed an estimated 90,000 illegal apartments by the mid-1980s, according to the Long Island Regional Planning Board.

Accessory apartments have proven their worth as the most affordable type of rental housing in the region. They can be easily accommodated because they don’t require large infusions of capital, new roads, new sewers or expansion of the electrical grid. Instead, existing neighborhoods absorb the rental-seeking population like a sponge, while stabilizing finances for tax-strapped homeowners. They also provide affordable housing that is blended throughout the community rather than clustered, and having a resident homeowner usually means that they are better maintained than rentals with absentee owners.

Today, nine of Suffolk’s 10 towns have established procedures to legalize or authorize accessory apartments for nonrelatives. In Nassau only one has: the town of Hempstead allows homeowners 62 and older to apply for “senior residence” accessory apartment permits, and 848 apartments currently hold such permits. Another 1,344 so-called “mother-daughter” permits have been issued by the town to homeowners who build apartments for family members. Oyster Bay, Smithtown and North Hempstead only permit mother-daughter apartments, or (in Oyster Bay) apartments for domestic servants.

Of 97 Long Island villages with zoning powers, seven issue permits for accessory apartments, while another four allow continuation of apartments that predated their codes. Another 24 permit apartments only in limited circumstances. But 62 do not allow them.

“This study offers a fascinating account of how Long Island has struggled with accessory apartments,” said Nancy Rauch Douzinas, President of the Rauch Foundation. “It reveals lessons that should inform future policy, as the challenge to provide affordable housing continues.”

“Affordability is key to the region’s economic future,” said Ann Golob, Director of the Long Island Index. “Accessory apartments are not the only solution, but this study shows that they are a necessary one.”

For further information, contact Henry Miller at hmiller@highimpactpartnering.com.

About the Long Island Index
Now in its 14th 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.