Saying 'Yes' to Affordable Housing on Long Island

Saying ‘Yes’ To Affordable Housing On Long Island
— By Deborah Wetzel

Everyone’s heard of NIMBY (“Not in My Backyard”), but you’ll soon be hearing more about YIMBY- “Yes in My Backyard.”

It’s a campaign that’s been started by the Long Island Progressive Coalition to create more affordable housing. In their rollout meeting in December, representatives of groups including Catholic Charities, Vision Long Island, the LIA Housing Committee, AARP and Sustainable Long Island created an advisory board and reached a consensus: to build a movement to rally supporters to attend town hall meetings where affordable housing initiatives are usually derailed and to bring the issue of affordable housing to elected officials.

“We always hear about NIMBY and the negative connotation behind it. We feel YIMBY has a positive message. It means that we can all share in this issue,” says Lisa Tyson, director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition. “We need people to stand up and say ‘Yes, we want affordable housing.’ It’s changing the paradigm in how people look at their communities.”

Affordable housing is becoming a crisis on Long Island, according to Maritza Silva-Farrell, the coalition’s affordable housing organizer. “And so many groups have been working for years and years and don’t succeed because everything stops at the town hall meetings. And then nothing gets done. What’s unfortunate is that the ones who get to the town hall meetings are the opponents. The ones who need the housing don’t get to the meetings – those are the people we want to represent.”

Silva-Farrell adds: “It’s not just about developing new housing. It’s about keeping the housing we have already and keeping rents controlled. Some people might be concerned about taking open spaces and tearing trees down and it’s also about keeping what we have right now and better living for everyone.”

The goal of YIMBY is to support smart growth initiatives, cluster development and to ensure new housing is LEED – or Energy Star -certified. Support for individual projects would depend, at least in part, on their environmental characteristics: redeveloping brownfields is good, while developing open space less so.

Another goal is to support initiatives like inclusionary zoning, which is being considered in Southampton. Inclusionary zoning would mandate that a certain percentage of new housing units be affordable. “We have support from the community on this and also from the mayor of Sag Harbor and it’s just a matter of time to see what happens,” Tyson says.

The organizers hope that, one day, YIMBY will be credited as the campaign that helped create affordable housing in Suffolk and Nassau counties. “And everyone can come to us when they need help. We can guide and teach people about grass roots organizing and make a difference,” Silva-Farrell concludes.