Expanding the county’s housing stock might not seem like a priority for Nassau’s Industrial Development Agency, but that is exactly what Chairman Richard Kessel wants to do.
“As part of [our goals], we need to take a leading role in providing … affordable housing for new employees who want to live and work in Nassau County,” said Kessel, the former president and CEO of the New York Power Authority. “Companies are not going to want to move here if their employees can’t afford to live here.”
During an interview last week in his sparse Mineola office, Kessel said that the agency’s traditional goals — to draw companies to Nassau, to have them stay here and expand — would still be crucial parts of the IDA’s mission.
But the agency could be doing more to make Nassau an attractive place than giving out tax breaks, Kessel added. Despite the county’s suburban sprawl, he said that denser housing would be needed, preferably around transit hubs. He pointed to the development a few blocks away, around the Mineola Long Island Rail Road station, as an example of what he would like to see.
He said the IDA is looking at a project to increase the capacity of Millbrook Apartments in Great Neck as a model. He said denser, cheaper apartments would make the county more attractive to young adults and the companies trying to attract them.
“Nassau County is the baby boomers and the generation before that, with Levittown … today, millennials are not necessarily looking for a house, or able to afford a house,” he said. “But they want to continue to live in Nassau County, even if they work in Queens or Brooklyn or Manhattan.”
The population of Long Island has increased slightly over the past two decades, but Kessel was worried that the population would drop unless more affordable housing was built and shrink the tax base.
As the cost of homes has continued to increase, Kessel said there were developers who were willing to build luxury apartments. But building affordable housing would require assistance from Nassau, which he felt the IDA could provide.
“This IDA is very committed to taking a leading role in incentivizing housing,” he said, noting that Nassau County Executive Laura Curran also supported expanded affordable housing. He said the agency will bring in a consultant to determine how much of each housing project should be affordable.
He said the projects most likely to receive IDA assistance would be those that “go the extra mile,” such as an apartment that would offer shuttle bus service to the nearest LIRR station.
Despite his appetite for more construction, Kessel assured that he would take the considerations of the public into account before a shovel was put in the ground.
“Every community is different, and you have to be sensitive to the community,” he said.
Although Kessel is focused on transit-oriented development, he said that new projects would ensure there would be enough parking.
As for bringing business to Nassau, Kessel said the days of tax breaks to car dealerships and storage facilities were over. He wants to attract high-tech firms and pharmaceutical companies — and the more jobs they bring, the better.
But he also stressed that the IDA would not be doing much work with big box chains, and would try to help small businesses by promoting downtowns. He said he would do this through grants, by working with local chambers of commerce and through beautification projects (he said the IDA could not do work with retail).
One thing that has limited shoppers from visiting villages like Great Neck is a lack of parking. Kessel said he was willing to look into providing more.
“If the village wanted us to help, and we could do that, I would take a look at that,” he said. “Anything to help the downtowns … we have to do everything we can to get people to shop locally.”
Reach reporter Luke Torrance by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 516-307-1045, ext. 214, or follow him on Twitter @LukeATorrance.