I would love to stay on Long Island — but don’t see how I can
Samantha Lawson is marketing manager and a millennial living in Wyandanch.
I have called Long Island home since I was born in 1987. Even before our parents moved my brother and I to West Babylon from Hempstead in 1994, our family roots had been growing in that area for several generations.
Long Island is beautiful. We have gorgeous homes, nice beaches, and a close proximity to New York City, so it is difficult to imagine living anywhere else. As an African-American and mother of two, it is also difficult to conceive of a reality in which I could stay.
Nassau and Suffolk Counties rank among the two of the most expensive places to live in America. In order to afford a two-bedroom apartment at market rent, a family’s income easily needs to be around $75,000 per year.
In 2015, I moved to Wyandanch Village, a newly-built high-rise apartment complex with income-based units. Wyandanch is considered a low-income neighborhood, and I observe most residents being of African and Hispanic descent. My boyfriend and I were blessed to be picked for a coveted income-based unit. In order to maintain reduced rent, our income cannot exceed $73,000. If we hit that income threshold, we will be $2,000 short of affording market rent.
It is difficult to find gainful employment on Long Island. My boyfriend and I are hardworking degree holders. We diligently search for jobs that match our education. For millennials on Long Island, college is considered a must. A degree was supposed to yield better opportunities and higher income. Unfortunately, it only led us to substantial debt, which is a hindrance to the goal of homeownership. From what I can tell salaries on Long Island for degree holders are less than in New York City. I took two jobs in the city to make ends meet. The result has been less quality time with my children.
The school system presents another problem. The Wyandanch School District, where my children attend, performs at a level well below those in predominantly Caucasian towns. Educational disparities are an Island-wide issue due to de facto segregation and racial steering practices (which are outlawed in the 1968 Fair Housing Act) that endure. Areas with low-income residents have lower property values. Taxes are proportional and these fund the local school districts.
In order for Wyandanch to rise out of its current status, the school proposed a 42 percent property tax increase for the 2019 to 2020 school year. Many families can’t afford a tax increase of that magnitude. As a result the budget got voted down twice and the district is operating on a contingency budget. It’s a challenging time for the district.
I would love to stay on Long Island, to set down roots here. Unfortunately, the lack of affordable housing, dismal career opportunities, and growing disparities in childhood education are a preamble to shattered dreams. Unless something changes, we may have to leave our present home for a better life.