This is Nassau: Modernizing "The Deal" of Living in Nassau County

One Year Ago,

The Comptroller's office released This Is Nassau, which highlighted key demographic changes in Nassau County over the last decade.
The Policy and Research Unit's demographic analysis of Nassau County found that the County is getting older and more diverse.
  • Since the year 2000, the 20-44 age group saw a 9.3% decline in population. 
  • From 2005 to 2016:
    • the White population declined by 7.48%
    • the Hispanic population increased 41.48%
    • the Black population went up 7.82%
    • the Asian population increased 40.08%.
  • Today, 4 out of 10 residents are minorities, putting Long Island on track to be majority minority ahead of the nation, which is expected to do so in 2045 .

To mark this anniversary,

We decided to take a deeper look into the stress factors that caused the 9.3% decline in the 20-44 age group and explore proven "best practices" that can help modernize"The Deal" of living in Nassau County.
Despite being home to some of the wealthiest zip codes in the country, multiple universities, and one of the largest commuter rail systems, the County's parkways are clogged with traffic, development that reinforced the area’s reliance on cars have drained the commercial life from village downtowns, and tax burdens have grown increasingly on homeowners (1).
Implementing strategies proven effective in other regions can help reinforce Nassau County as a place for middle-class opportunity and better align the County for the demands of the new economy.

Let's Take a Deeper Dive Into:

  • The economic landscape of Nassau County
  • How the cost of living threatens Nassau's sustainability
  • "Best Practices" from around the country that can help modernize "The Deal" of living in Nassau County

The Economic Landscape of Nassau County

Long Island’s economy has historically been dominated by the aerospace and defense industries.  During World War II, nearly 100,000 Long Island workers built the majority of planes that flew in the Pacific and European campaigns (2). During the post-war years, companies like Republic Aerospace, Sperry Gyroscope, and Grumman Aircraft dotted the landscape and provided Long Islanders with good-paying jobs. The end of the Cold War resulted in drastically reduced demand for military aircraft and defense-related products, and Long Island’s aerospace-based economy collapsed.
In 1986, Northrop Grumman employed 22,500 people on Long Island, which plummeted 97.5% to a paltry 550 just two decades later (3). The void left by the collapse of the defense industry has been filled mostly by the service-sector and healthcare industries. Of the ten largest private employers in the region today, 40% provide healthcare services and another 30% provide mostly service-based retail jobs (4).
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the broadest measure of how much wealth and income an economy is producing. According to the most recent Bureau of Economic Research data, Nassau County’s economy expanded by 2.7% between 2012-2015, which is less than the national county-level average of 5.7% (5). Moreover, the County’s rate of job growth hasn’t kept pace with Suffolk County or New York City. Between 2000-2016, New York City and Suffolk County’s job growth was 16% and 12% respectively, while Nassau County’s job growth rate was a meager 5% (6). 
A 2018 Moody’s Report asserts that growth has largely bypassed high-wage industries such as finance and professional services, forcing many highly-educated residents to commute or move elsewhere (7). Some of the job growth has also been attributed to higher income earners from Long Island that work in New York City. These workers earn more on average than people working on Long Island and create jobs in restaurants, retail, and real estate when they spend in their local economies (8).

How the cost of living threatens Nassau's sustainability

Income Inequality

Since 2010, Nassau County’s income inequality, as measured by the income quintile share ratio, has risen each year. This data represents the ratio of the mean income for the top 20 percent of earners divided by the mean income of the bottom 20 percent. Nassau’s 14.58 ratio indicates that the average income for the top 20% of earners is 14.58 times greater than the average income of the bottom 20% of earners in the County (9). Nassau's ratio is significantly higher than the United States as whole, which has an income quintile ratio of 9.4 (59).

Nassau County also ranks in the top 3% of all counties in the United States when looking at the earning disparity of the top 1% of earners. On average, the top 1% of earners in Nassau County earn 31 times as much as the bottom 99% of earners (10). This disparity was illustrated in a recent presentation by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which reported that low and high wage jobs are growing faster than those paying middle-income wages across Long Island. 
Of the nearly 27,100 jobs created on Long Island between 2015 and 2017, more than half, or 15,520, had median salaries below $30,000 and 9,300 jobs had salaries above $60,000 (11). The presentation stressed that the trend of low-wage and high-wage positions outpacing middle-wage positions are not consistent with national trends, where all three employment groups grew by roughly the same amount.
Racial Income Gap
In February of 2019, the Comptroller's Office released "This is Nassau: Black Economic Equity", which highlighted the income disparity across racial lines. According to Policy Link, Long Island's economy could have been nearly $24 billion stronger in 2014 had the racial income gap been closed.
Housing Costs
The Regional Plan Association has asserted that America’s first suburb has gone from being one of the most affordable places to raise a family to one of the least (12) and is causing the departure of young professionals.
Young professionals that haven’t left the County in search of affordable housing are living at home with their parents at an increasing rate. In 1970, fewer than 10% of the 25-34 age group on Long Island lived with their parents compared to 44.4% in 2016 (13). This represents a four-fold increase in young adults that live with at least one parent. Nationally, just 16% of this age group lives at home with their parents.
Nassau County’s 2010 Master Plan acknowledged that housing costs, coupled with taxes, are often cited as the main reason that more people avoid moving to Nassau County and why residents who grew up in the County move away (14). The median property value in Nassau County, NY is $517,500, which is nearly 2.3 times larger than the national average of $229,770 and increased by 12.8% between 2015 and 2018 (15). 
Over the last decade, Long Island households have also been spending a much larger share of their incomes on rent, mortgage payments, and other associated housing costs. Housing affordability is traditionally measured by share of income spent on housing. The benchmark standard is 30% of a household's budget. Between 2000 and 2015, the amount of households that were spending 30% of their income on housing grew by 15% to nearly 45% (16). By 2035, property taxes alone, which are more than 2 1/2 times the national average, are projected to consume more than 14% of household income (17). 
Key Takeaway:
Increased housing costs and reduced disposable income pose serious risks to the County’s economy in the long term. Over seventy percent of Long Islanders aged 18-35 recently indicated that they’re likely to leave Long Island in the next five years as a result of housing costs and property taxes (18).

Modernizing "The Deal" of Living in Nassau County

As states, towns, and cities compete for economic success, regions that are most able to attract and retain a talented, highly educated workforce will see the most success in growing their economies. Nassau County must confront the high cost of living, develop the right workforce, and invest in public transportation to reinforce Nassau County as a place for middle-class opportunity and better align the County for the demands of the new economy.

What Could Nassau Do?

  • Embrace Transit-Orientated Districts
  • Invest and Expand Public Transportation
  • Promote Sector-Driven Workforce Development

Embrace Transit-Orientated Districts

To fulfill the unmet demand for centrally located housing units and make neighborhoods appealing to young professionals, Nassau County should support the development of Transit-Oriented Developments (TODs). A TOD is a mixed-use community within walking distance of a transit stop and a core commercial area, making it convenient for residents and employees to travel by transit, bicycle, foot, or car (19).
Why is it needed?
Historically, Long Island drew families looking for single-family homes to raise children. The region's 80.5% home ownership rate far surpasses the national average of 63.1% (20). The economic and demographic changes that have occurred over the last few decades have shifted demand away from single-family homes as more Long Islanders are choosing to live alone and delay marriage.
In the three decades between 1970 to 2010, the number of people on Long Island that live alone increased by 65%, while the number of married families with children decreased by 28% (21). These shifts have created more demand for centrally-located housing units geared toward single people and non-married couples. A 2016 Long Island Index survey found that 15% of Long Islanders either live in an apartment, condo, or townhouse and 29% want to live in one of those options within five years (22).
This demand for alternative housing options, namely rental units, far outpaces the supply. A 2013 Long Island’s Rental Housing Crisis report found that 64% of renters cannot afford a typical two-bedroom apartment, and that much of the cause is attributable to how little multi-family housing has been built in Nassau and Suffolk Counties (23).
Where has it worked?
Transit-oriented developments can create dense, walkable mixed-used areas that generate economic development and create more vibrant communities (24).
  • A TOD in Downtown Arlington Heights, Virginia is credited with revitalizing a historic downtown area. In 20 years, the development increased the number of units tenfold and drove about $250 million in public and private investments (25).
  • After years of stagnation and vacancy, Collingswood, NJ, is now home to a growing restaurant scene, increasing home prices, and new condos surrounding the town’s train station (26).
  • Here on Long Island, a TOD-based redevelopment in downtown Patchogue has led a resurgent downtown with over 700 new residential units with designated affordable housing. Since 2000, the revitalization of downtown Patchogue has generated $693 million in economic growth, created over 5,900 jobs, and led to $6.6 million in school tax revenues (27). Over the next ten years, an estimated $239 million in economic growth and 2,500 new jobs are projected as a result of more development projects in the pipeline (28).
  • The Village of Farmingdale made tremendous progress on downtown revitalization, transit-oriented development, and infrastructure investments. The village’s Main Street went from having 30 vacant storefronts to just three (54). Although the master plan envisioned 375 units of housing being built downtown over 25 years, the pace of development has been even quicker than envisioned, with more than 250 units built in downtown and train station area since the plan’s approval (55). Average residential property values have also seen a 7.5 percent increase over the last two years (56). These developments not only supported local businesses, either new or existing, but also improved livability and enhanced the local economy and tax base.
How can it work in Nassau County?
There are 8,300 acres of underutilized properties in downtown areas and around train stations across Long Island, of which 22% are open spaces, 26% are vacant, and 52% are parking lots (29). Policymakers should consider this a prime opportunity to promote TODs in these areas that fall within Nassau County.
Aside from meeting a true housing demand and appealing to young professionals, rental developments also help foster economic growth. Every 100 new units of rental housing generates 32 local jobs, $2.3 million in income, and $395,000 in tax revenue annually (30).
Nassau County has already made some critical headway in this area:
  • The Nassau County Executive has recently moved to ease the permitting process for development projects fronting County roads. These regulations had notoriously hampered developers and economic expansion. Streamlining these regulations are expected to help create transit-oriented, walkable downtowns in an effort to attract the next generation.
  • In August of 2019, Baldwin received a $10 million grant from New York State as part of the Governor's comprehensive approach to create vibrant communities and boost local economies. The funding will help push forward the plan for a pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use downtown area centered around the LIRR station (57). With continued support from County leadership and proven examples of walkable downtowns, Nassau County has the potential to redefine modern suburbia in an equitable and sustainable way.
  • The Village of Westbury received a $10 million funding award (July 2016) through the State of New York’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) to further downtown Westbury’s revitalization (61). Funding is will to be used to rezone 50 acres to help attract businesses and multifamily housing to the area for seniors and millennials who want to live near a train station (62).
Key Takeaway:
It is critical that policymakers involve the community in the planning process in order to reduce displacement and the effects of gentrification. 
An empirical study of the Fruitvale Village TOD in California demonstrated the impact that community- driven economic development and culturally responsive developments can have on the socioeconomic outcomes of residents. By involving the community, the 257,000 square foot Fruitvale Village TOD led to overall increases in income, educational attainment, and homeownership rates, while keeping the racial/ethnic composition of the area studied almost unchanged (31).

Invest and Expand Public Transportation

The benefits of expanded bus services go beyond just the end user. Riders benefit from transit services  not only through its direct use, but indirectly from income, consumption, and public services made available by the presence of public transportation, while households without riders benefit through reduction of congestion costs, lower levels of air pollutants, and reduced damage to highway infrastructure. Governments that support bus transit also accrue benefits. These include additional tax revenues from workers who can maintain employment due to access to a transit system (34).
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems include running buses in dedicated lanes separated from traffic, triggering traffic signals, and providing pre-board fare payment. Bus-only lanes are a low-cost solution that use the capacity of existing corridors and provide immediate benefits to fixed route buses (47). BRT systems are powerful tool for economic development. 
Why is it needed?
Despite being home to the largest commuter rail network in the nation, it is nearly impossible to travel anywhere without a car. The Long Island Rail Road was largely designed to take commuters to and from New York City for work. Despite The Metropolitan Transportation Authority plans to spend an unprecedented $51 billion during the next five years (60) to improve and expand its infrastructure, the LIRR still lacks a true North/South corridor. Roads and parkways that were built for leisurely travel to beaches and State parks are now vital traffic arteries often jam-packed at rush hour.
Drivers in Nassau County drove a total of 29.23 million vehicle miles in 2017, the second highest of any county in the NYMTC Planning Area and experienced nearly 50 minutes of delays each day (32). By 2045, the number of miles traveled is expected to increase drastically by 51% to 32.78 million miles and delays are predicted to eclipse the one-hour mark.
While already bad, the economic and social implications of congestion are only going to get worse over time. National estimates suggest that American households will lose $3,400 each year in disposable income due to infrastructure deficiencies between 2016 to 2025, growing to an average of $5,100 annually from 2026 to 2040, resulting in cumulative losses up to almost $34,000 per household from 2016 to 2025 and almost $111,000 from 2016 to 2040 (33).
Where has it worked?
  • In Westchester County, expanded bus service has been vital to the success of major development projects including Ridge Hill, a $700 million mixed-use development overlooking the New York Thruway. Since opening, total annual ridership on the principal route serving Ridge Hill more than doubled, to more than 301,000 in 1 year (35).
  • A Bus Rapid Transit pilot program in Boston, in which the city implemented bus-only lanes from 5 AM to 9 AM, confirmed that riders benefited from the bus lane, reducing travel time while in the lane by 20 to 25 percent during the worst hour of congestion (36). 
  • In Indianapolis, areas within a half-mile of Bus Rapid Transit corridors increased their share of new office space by one third within seven years, and new multifamily apartment construction doubled in those half-mile areas. In addition to new construction growth, higher-wage job growth occurred near Bus Rapid Transit stations than occurred in central counties. 170,000 employees work within walking distance of Indianapolis’ bus rapid transit service – one out of every five employees in the region (37).
How can it work in Nassau County?
A 2012 study on the economic impacts of NICE bus service in Nassau County found that spending on bus services accounted for approximately 1,490 jobs and $191.5 million in economic output – more than $73 in economic activity for every dollar directly contributed by the County toward the cost of bus operations (38). By working with stakeholders to coordinate bus service to new residential, commercial, and mixed-use developments, Nassau can generate economic growth and increase tax revenue.
In August of 2018, the current Coliseum tenant Nassau Events Center, LLC. partnered with RXR Realty on a $1.5 billion plan that aligns with this vision. The HUB redevelopment agreement included bus rapid transit to the Mineola and Hempstead LIRR stations and pedestrian bridges connecting to adjacent RXR properties (48). Nassau County would be seeking $20 million in state funding for the three pedestrian bridges as well as a further $10 to $20 million fund to create a bus rapid transit system (49).

Promote Sector-Driven Workforce Development

Nassau County policymakers must ensure that workers are prepared for job opportunities in key sectors of growth on Long Island. The National Association of Counties stresses the importance of pursuing sector-driven approaches to workforce development, which focuses on the needs of employers in specific industries, to stay economically competitive (39).
Why is it needed?
A collaborative report of local workforce development boards identified economic growth sectors on Long Island that face a shortage of skilled workers, including the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields, advanced manufacturing, information technology, healthcare/life sciences, and green technology (40).
Nationally, occupations in these fields are expected to grow faster than the average occupation over the next ten years. Employment of information security analysts is projected to grow by 28%, healthcare occupations by 18%, and information technology occupations by 13% (41). Growth in these occupations can already be seen on Long Island. Between 2011-2017, employment in the life sciences grew by 3.1%, far outpacing New York State’s growth rate of 0.7 percent (42).
Furthermore, middle skill jobs, those who have some education and training beyond high school but have not earned a four-year college degree, are a growing part of Long Island economy. Middle skill jobs account for half of the labor market, but only 38% of New York State’s workforce is trained at the middle skill level (50). This gap is present between the growing industries on Long Island and the skills of the workforce. New middle skill jobs will be created across New York State by 2022, including a projected 27,000 on Long Island. (51)
Where has it worked?
  • In 2012, the Los Angeles County Workforce Investment Board set out to completely redesign the county’s workforce development system to meet the workforce needs of high-growth sectors (43).
  • Seattle-King County’s Workforce Development Council (WDC) works throughout the community, bringing employers, job seekers, youth, educators, labor groups and other nonprofits together to find and fund solutions to workforce  gaps (44). Using  a  sector  strategy  approach, the  Seattle-King  County’s WDC  targets its workforce development efforts on five current and three potential high growth industry sectors (45).
How can it work in Nassau County?
Nassau County is home to more than a dozen institutions of higher education that can help policymakers forge industry-focused partnerships to create an operational framework for workforce development. Embracing this type of sector strategy approach could serve as a job pathway for in-demand careers.
Local workforce development partners, such as Nassau BOCES, Nassau Community College, Workforce Development Institute, and many others have made efforts to close the middle skills gap.
  • Nassau BOCES offers industry-aligned career training and experiences empowering adults by helping them with acquiring the employable skills necessary to assimilate into the workforce (51).
  • Nassau Community College provides training and post-training job placement assistance and provide information regarding credentials that match business hiring needs (52). 
  • Workforce Development Institute delivers workforce expertise and funding to facilitate projects that build workforce skills and strengthen employers’ ability to hire, promote, and retain workers (58).
These types of economic development strategies have the potential to yield a trained workforce that not only supports business attraction and retention but also creates local opportunities for unemployed and underemployed residents (46). Through specially developed partnerships, major employers and universities can work together to ensure that Nassau’s workforce is prepared to meet the needs of our industries.

 To Sum Up,

Let's Get to Work

Equitably designed transit-oriented developments can help stem the outflow of talent and create vibrant communities that generate economic growth.
Nassau must ensure that workers are prepared to take advantage of new job opportunities in key sectors on Long Island. Through specially developed partnerships, major employers and universities can work together to ensure that workforce training aligns with industry needs. 
An efficient public transportation system is imperative to keep Nassau's economy functioning smoothly. Policymakers should promote the symbiotic relationship between traffic congestion, public transportation, and transit-orientated developments. As more people are drawn towards TODs anchored around public transportation, the less congestion on our roadways, the more the County benefits economically.
These structural changes can help reinforce Nassau County as a place for middle-class opportunity and better align the County for the demands of the new economy.

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