The New Wave

It seems that every week, more and more Long Island communities are starting to embrace the idea of density rental housing. The area always had a rental element—college students or residents pulling shifts at hospitals—yet our Island lags behind many other places in the tri-state area in this category of real estate. Northern New Jersey, the Hudson Valley and southern Connecticut are all affluent areas with demographics similar to ours, but they claim a much higher percentage of rental housing. The lack of affordable rentals and the higher cost of owning a traditional home are factors of the “Brain Drain” our officials continuously lament (the effect of college graduates taking their skills with them when they move off the Island).

But in the last few years, rental properties have finally started to garner serious attention in our region. Though there have been ups and downs, in 2010 about 10 percent of the building permits issued were for multifamily structures. In 2011, it was nearly 40 percent. New developments and designs offer residents an alternative to a single-family home. And in some cases, instead of damaging the character of a neighborhood, these developments help enhance it. “Main Street, USA has really, in certain villages, had the life sucked out of them by big box retailers and the highways that have gone in over the last 30 or 40 years,” said Robert Loscalzo, the chief operating officer for Tritec, an East Setauket-based real estate developer with some big projects on Long Island. For Loscalzo, developments can incorporate elements of housing and shops, creating a walkable downtown environment that encourages people to visit even if they’re not residents.

One recently opened project is the New Village in Patchogue, which completely redesigned an eighth of the village’s downtown. In addition to high-end apartments, the mixed-use space has shops and restaurants as well as clubrooms, outdoor spaces like fire pits, “screen on the green” nights and a pool for residents to gather. Residents get secure parking and bicycle storage, as well as charging spaces for electric cars. Loscalzo called it a “village within a village… Young people, they tend to gravitate more toward urban living,” Loscalzo said. “And the word ‘urban’ on Long Island has always been a dirty word to use, because it has connotations to New York City. I think we’re gravitating back to that type of living here. Where the focus is going to shift more toward… it’s not city living, but it’s suburban city living. There will be a new word for it.”

Loscalzo said half the residents of New Village are between 25 and 34, and 25 percent are over 60. Studios start at $1,470, while three-bedroom apartments can go for up to $3,000 a month. “It’s a shift in the way that we live, work and want to socialize,” he said. “There will always be a market for a single-family home. But with two spouses working, who has time to do all the things you do around the house? You wind up just hiring someone to do it.”

Tritec is one of the latest developers to start building rental housing on Long Island. AvalonBay, a national company with a local office in Melville, has been building communities here for years. It currently owns and operates 11 different communities with about 3,500 apartments across the area.

“Here on Long Island, I think the success of these developments has opened peoples’ eyes,” said Chris Capece, senior development director for AvalonBay. “There are other transit-oriented developments that are now happening on Long Island as a result of some of that work. It’s rewarding, quite frankly.”

In AvalonBay communities, as well as other new developments, the draw isn’t just for young people, either. Many residents are also empty nesters. For those older couples whose kids have moved on, the apartments have a different draw: They get to keep living in the communities they have roots in and downsize from a single-family home to a more manageable apartment or condo. “We get them before and after the single-family home,” Capece said.

In AvalonBay Rockville Centre, one of the company’s most successful local developments, 52 percent of the residents are under 35 and about 22 percent are over 55. And Capece said many of those who live there are from Rockville Centre or the surrounding communities. In other words, they’re already locals. And more developments are coming, many with local support. In Ronkonkoma, Tritec is in the stages of getting final approval for a new development that will span 50 acres. Instead of just changing part of the downtown, like in Patchogue, the Ronkonkoma project will, in essence, create a downtown where one does not currently exist. “We’re finding that there’s a community out there that’s starving for this type of living,” Loscalzo said, “and that’s what we’re trying to provide.”