Babylon IDA gets serious about affordable housing

Housing plan: The Babylon IDA's affordable housing strategy should be a blueprint for Long Island, says CEO Matthew McDonough.

The Babylon Industrial Development Agency has adopted a “landmark provision” designed to address one of the Long Island innovation economy’s great needs: affordable housing.

The Babylon IDA on Tuesday passed what it called a “significant policy initiative” targeting future housing developments within town borders. Designed in collaboration with the Long Island Housing Partnership, the policy requires that owners of new developments applying for IDA benefits meet a 20 percent affordable-housing requirement – meaning at least one out of every five new units must be reserved for tenants earning less than the Area Median Income.

A lack of affordable rental units across Long Island has long been a thorn in the side of the regional economy, limiting the Island’s talent pool and contributing to the region’s infamous “brain drain” – the ongoing exodus of young, educated workers to environments with more affordable-rental opportunities and social options.

The new Babylon IDA policy is designed to create “true affordable housing options” in the town, according to the development agency, thereby addressing what IDA Chief Executive Matthew McDonough referenced as a serious concern for the regional economy.

“The lack of affordable housing options on Long Island is having a negative effect on the business community as they are unable to retain their workforce or attract the talent needed for continued growth,” McDonough said Tuesday. “Establishing this aggressive affordability policy will create housing options that actually reflect what the average worker can afford.

“We hope by doing this we set the stage for all future housing developments on Long Island.”

Babylon already has an affordable housing policy that requires 20 percent of units be dedicated as affordable, but allows rents in those units to be as high as 130 percent of the AMI for developers who pay into an “affordability fund.”

Under the IDA policy, in order to qualify for the agency’s tax-abatement incentives, developers “must demonstrate a minimum of 20 percent of all residential units will be maintained as affordable,” the IDA said.

Rich Schaffer: Good news for regional workforce.

The policy sets a sliding scale of affordable housing requirements based on apartment size and the number of occupants, setting pricing at $1,274 per month for a family of two in studio and one-bedroom units, $1,592 per month for a family of four in two-bedroom units and $1,848 for a family of six in three-bedroom units.

The policy also calls for pricing levels of affordable rental units to remain below 70 percent of the HUD fair market value for Nassau and Suffolk counties at the time of lease execution, while allowing for income levels to rise to 80 percent of the fair market value at the time of recertification.

The new IDA policy also requires developers applying for benefits to contract with “a local housing group” to administer the affordability component of the rental units and monitor the rental of units for compliance – a requirement that remains in effect “throughout the duration of their pilot with the IDA,” according to the development agency.

Kyle Strober, executive director of the Association for a Better Long Island, said the ABLI hopes the Babylon IDA’s efforts “serve as a regional model.”

“The Babylon IDA continues to recognize that programs that encourage affordable housing on Long Island are key to attracting young professional workers back to Long Island, and thereby reverse the ‘brain drain,’” Strober said in a statement.

Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer agreed that affordable-housing access “has a direct impact on the strength of our workforce.”

“The continued health of our business community will rely heavily on creating more housing options that will allow for continued attraction and retention of a qualified workforce,” Schaffer said Tuesday. “The IDA’s policy will ensure these housing options are created in a way that benefits all parties involved.”

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