2003-05-02 / Columnists

From the

Editor
By Howard Schwach
From the Editor’s Desk By Howard Schwach

When does "new housing development" turn into "too much housing development?"

That is the question that Rockaway will have to answer before too long.

Despite the fact that Rockaway, with both a long beachfront and beautiful bayfront property was always one of the most advantageous places to build (location plus availability), nobody wanted to build here because of the plethora of city housing projects and our lousy transportation to Manhattan.

The success of the homes on the former Playland site changed all that. The houses were snapped up before the foundations were completed.

Developers who had previously disdained Rockaway and who were running out of options elsewhere, began to take another look at the peninsula. They obviously liked what they saw.

From that point on, it became a race to fill every empty lot on the peninsula, from West Lawrence and Bayswater on the east to Belle Harbor on the west.

Those who have been involved with the revitalization of Rockaway looked and said that it was a good sign for the peninsula.

The mantra went like this: new middle class housing draws middle class families, which then draws commercial development and investment, which then revitalizes the entire community.

The hope was that the increased middle class population would also then force the city to improve the A Train or bring commuter ferry service to the peninsula.

I was one of those who liked the equation and hoped for the new homes. Now that they are here, however, I am not so sure.

Why?

Take a look at this paper’s classified ads each week and you will get an idea of what this development boom is doing to the price of housing in Rockaway.

What it is doing is driving the young people and the truly middle class out of the peninsula. All that will be left, if the trend continues, are the truly poor and the truly rich. I am not sure that would be good for Rockaway.

Witness the following: A three-bedroom colonial in Neponsit at $725 thousand; a two-family in Rockaway Park in "the low 700’s"; a one-family, two-bedroom home in Arverne at $289 thousand; a three-bedroom single family home in Belle Harbor at $599 thousand; a three-bedroom home in "Upper-upper Belle Harbor" for $750 thousand; a two-bedroom apartment in Rockaway Park for $1,300 a month; a three-bedroom apartment in Rockaway Park for $1,600 a month; a two-bedroom apartment in one of the new homes on Shore Front Parkway for $1,500 a month plus heating; a three-bedroom in Bayswater for $1,300 a month; a three-bedroom in Neponsit for $1,750 a month.

Get the picture?

There is no way that a young couple with children, even if both of them are working at decent jobs, can afford a home or even a decent apartment in Rockaway without financial help from their parents.

For example, the rule of thumb, I am told, is that a person’s rent payments should not exceed a week’s salary.

If a couple is earning, let’s say, $60 thousand a year, they are taking home about $40 thousand. Divide that by 52, and you get a total of about $750 a week. That is a long way from $1,300 or $1,500 for a decent two or three-bedroom apartment, nevertheless a home.

They are being priced out of the market.

They are being priced out of Rockaway, a place where the low rents and home prices were once legendary in the real estate market.

One elderly woman, whose husband recently passed away, told me just today that she would probably have to move out of the rented apartment she has been in for 30 years because she will no longer be able to afford the rent, which seems to increase about 10 percent each year.

A one-bedroom apartment in that building now goes for in excess of $1,200 a month, depending on whether it is on the ocean side or the bay side of the building.

That is not middle class.

Even real estate professionals are surprised by what is happening in Rockaway. The person, who asked not to be identified, told me that he/she is often sheepish when showing a client a home or apartment and that client has to be told what the home or the apartment will cost.

"There is no way many of the properties I show are worth what people are asking," that person told me. "That is the going rate, however, and people want to take the money and run."

"Most of the young couples that come to me who are not trading up or do not have parental help really do not have much chance of buying a home on the peninsula any more," the real estate person said.

"Sixty Minutes" did a piece on the real estate boom last Sunday, focusing on Long Island and on California. The people who work in the industry all over the nation are marveling at the cost of homes and nobody who was interviewed thinks that it will end anytime soon.

If it continues, Rockaway will become like parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn that were "gentrified" to the point that former residents could no longer live there.

I don’t think that anybody wants to see that happen, but it is happening nevertheless.

Rockaway has always prided itself as a community where nobody leaves, a community where children grow up, buy their own homes, and put down roots that last for life. It has prided itself on being a community of civil servants, of teachers and firefighters and cops.

The housing market that exists now and promises only to get worse has changed all that.

In fact, the housing boom seems to have taken on a life of its own in Rockaway and it may soon devour the peninsula, forcing those who love Rockaway to look elsewhere to live.


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