Relax: The New Multifamily Building Next Door Isn’t Crowding Your School District
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When a new multifamily project goes up in their neighborhood, residents of suburban Long Island can find numerous reasons to object, from ruined sight lines to longer waits for their morning coffee. But recently, objections have focused on a more practical concern: school crowding.
Residents worry that by increasing the housing density and drawing in new residents, multifamily buildings are going to bring more children into classrooms already bursting at the seams. Opening new facilities and hiring more teachers could mean higher school and real estate taxes, which will disproportionately fall to single-family residents.
The problem with that line of reasoning is that the numbers don’t back it up.
A new study from the Real Estate Institute at Stony Brook University’s College of Business followed 14 multifamily developments in 10 different school districts across Nassau and Suffolk counties. The study found that over the last decade, the new developments accounted for 3,928 units of housing and a grand total of 313 new students.
“When you realize that these developments are adding just over a 10th of a student per unit of housing, you see that the fear of overcrowding is somewhat overblown,” said Marc Fogel, a partner and real estate expert at Berdon LLP and a member of the Stony Brook institute that conducted the study.
In terms of school costs, Fogel said, the new developments were tax-positive for their communities. The new occupants brought in new property and school taxes and took advantage of the school at a much lower rate than single-family occupants.
School taxes already account for about two-thirds of Long Island property owners’ tax bills. The thought of paying more taxes for a less nurturing, more crowded school can be frightening, Fogel said. But if taxes do increase, he added, multifamily buildings won’t be to blame.
Part of the reason that multifamily buildings are contributing so few new students largely has to do with who actually moves into these buildings.
“Many of these new occupants are millennials who have just moved out from the city,” Fogel said. “Millennials are having fewer children in general and they are having children later than their parents’ generation.”
So, while a multifamily building could increase new school enrollments, it may be on a much longer and more manageable timeline than many current residents fear. That delay should give school districts adequate time to adapt, Fogel said, and for the national census to boost local funding for schools.
There also may be more educational infrastructure ready to be deployed than residents realize.
"Twenty-five years ago, when I was attending high school in Smithtown, the two high schools, Smithtown East and West, were combined into one because of a decrease in the student population," Fogel said. "In 2006, the district split up the high schools again because of an increase in the student population. Demand for school space waxes and wanes.”
Some Long Islanders have lodged more general complaints about overcrowding on the island, laying the blame on new construction and roadwork for increased traffic in and out of Manhattan. But Fogel said that this is not quite correct, as many of the new developments have been built around transit hubs, and car ownership is lower among multifamily residents than among single-family homeowners.
While Fogel said he hopes the Stony Brook study makes its rounds to developers and school districts, he said much of the NIMBYism that pervades Long Island is built into the bureaucracy of the island itself.
“For any new project, you need sign-off from the county, the town, the municipality, maybe even the village,” Fogel said. “It’s very hard to get anything done on Long Island. We hope that this study can help our communities and developers make more informed decisions about the projects they pursue.”
This feature was produced in collaboration between Bisnow Branded Content and Berdon. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.