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BROOKVILLE, NY-Disparate assets–universities and industrial sites, specifically–represent a solution to Long Island’s housing crisis, but real fixes to the problems of affordability and inventory won’t come to pass until public/private initiatives are in place. However, given the nature of politics and the “enclave” mentality of many area residents, that meeting of private and public minds will be long in coming.

That was the frank outcome of a panel discussion held yesterday morning at the CW Post Campus of Long Island University and sponsored by the Real Estate Practitioners Institute of Long Island. Ironically, regional woes were presented against the backdrop of a healthy US economy, presented in a keynote address by economist Kathleen Camilli.

Panelist Herbert Agin, CEO of Sutton & Edwards, laid out the problems clearly enough. Companies like Citibank and Olympus, he said, pulled up stakes largely because of the costs of labor here, where median home prices range around $467,000. He compared this to Orlando, Citibank’s target location, where homes go for $232,000 on median. Entry-level employees, squeezed out of the Long Island home market, are clearly voting with their feet.

Land consultant Daniel Gulizio, former planning commissioner for the Town of Brookhaven, supported the claim by reporting a loss of 20% of the population’s young adults between 1990 and 2000, compared with the nation’s average of 5% in that time period. He further pointed out that, while home prices have increased 70% over the past five years, salaries have risen by 42%.

Panelist Jan Burman, president of residential development firm Engel-Burman Group, stated that, in the face of scarce acreage, he has taken to adaptive reuse of industrial sites, including conversions to residential of manufacturing plants in Hempstead and Copiague. He added that much of this housing is affordable. But such projects are only part of the solution, and he provided a laundry list of fixes that needed to be enacted throughout the island if workforce housing (affordable housing’s new moniker, Agin added) is to grow. These fixes included zoning that increases density and thus reduces the cost of land; allowing more residential above commercial establishments in the island’s CBDs; and adoption of a firm anti-Nimby posture.

But fighting Nimbyism is an uphill battle for two reasons. First is the enclave mentality of a region dotted with ultra-wealthy communities, said Donald Eversoll, president of homebuilding company Eversoll Associates. The second is the tendency of politicians to “pander to the votes” of those who reside in those enclaves, according to Burman.

Affordable-housing growth on Long Island will be hung up until politicos pay attention. “It’s not the business community but government that establishes zoning,” Gulizio stated. “The problem lies there, and the problems won’t be resolved until we can discuss the issues and generate a dialog.”

Absent long-term solutions from our elected officials, Eversoll stated that Burman’s industrial re-use was the antidote to Nimbyism, arguing that an empty warehouse in someone’s backyard is never preferable to workforce housing. “Convert those,” he stated, “and the neighbors will come along.”

Economist Camilli reported that universities were another solution to the problem. “They’re incubators of growth and job creation,” she stated.

The near- and long-term problems the island faces stood in stark contrast to the health of the macro-economy, as presented in Camilli’s keynote address. Even the destruction caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the explosive rise in oil prices couldn’t derail growth. Camilli, a former Credit Suisse economist who now runs her own firm, indicated that GDP grew 3.6% in the first three quarters of this year, compared to the 4.2% overall growth for 2004. Likewise, the Institute for Supply Management Index hovers at 60% now compared to 59.1% last year for the manufacturing sector and 60% now compared to last year’s 62.4% for services. In terms of the outlook into 2006, she concluded, “the US economy is poised for continued growth.”

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