Commentary • March 27, 2024

Solving the Catch-22 on New Development: Build 55 and Over Housing

I posted not long ago that one of the reasons why inventory is so low is that we are not building new homes at a rate needed to meet our housing needs. It is estimated that we need another 7 million units to solve this, and that won’t happen overnight. What’s worse is that in many communities like my own home town of Ossining, NY, there is considerable resistance to new development. In reading local community group postings, online, the chief reason for opposing the construction of new housing is the strain it potentially adds on the traffic and schools. The Northeast as a whole does have older infrastructure, and not much wiggle room to widen roads and build new schools, and we already have the highest taxes in the universe.

There is a proposal to build a new school, but the opposition to that will be significant. The last year a new school was built was around 1963, give or take. The population of the town was just over 26,000 according to the 1960 census. The current population stands at over 40,000 residents. Many of the existing schools have been expanded, but that’s been more of a bandage than a long term solution. Something does have to give; we can’t ignore the dwindling housing supply.

Looking back, I’m mindful of just how much times have changed. I recall as a youth in the 1970s that the district actually closed two schools due to the lower birth rate of the time, and new construction went from over 1000 new units in the 1960s to fewer than 250 in the 1970s. But the 1980s saw a resurgence in new development, mostly townhomes and condominiums, and eventually Roosevelt School, which had been closed and converted to offices in the early 70s, was reopened to accommodate the growing student body.

According to my search of public records, building declined in the 90s to 600 units, then mid 200s in the 2000s to only 31 from 2010-2019. That last one was probably due in large part to the Great Recession, but standing here in 2024 housing costs are nuts and any proposed new development always has vocal opposition.

Looking at the big picture of what is sustainable and works best in the long run, my vote would be to break ground on more 55 and over housing. The population is aging (I include my 56 year old self in that statement), and for many of us who are looking at empty nests and eventual retirement the options for downsizing are relatively sparse. There is a large population shift to the sunbelt and more affordable regions out of state, but that doesn’t do much for us locally. Denser townhome or condo style housing devoted to 55 and over should assuage the concerns about building. There would be far less strain on the schools, it broadens the tax base, and it gives more housing options to first time buyers when older folks transition to the new units. I certainly don’t think the commerce enjoyed from the new development would hurt either.

I don’t have a magic wand or housing emperor scepter, but if I did this would happen.