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Suffolk County’s Down Payment Assistance Program

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Buying a house should not be a pipe dream, but it has become more and more unrealistic for Long Island residents.

Even if extra houses and apartments are built, one issue has become painfully clear — home properties are too expensive for many Long Island residents. According to OneKey MLS, the median sales price of a home in Suffolk County in January 2024 was $600,000, an annual increase of 9.1%.

This leaves many different residents with the difficult question of whether or not to leave their beloved hometowns to move to a more affordable place, or even try to buy a home here in the first place.

If young couples cannot afford to start a family here, then there is a potential that school districts are impacted, whether losing funds due to lack of enrollment or having to shutter their doors completely.

Naturally, this problem doesn’t just end at school districts. Our small businesses need the local population to not just shop, but to work. Yet the state minimum wage of $16 per hour does not even come close to being high enough for people to realistically afford a mortgage or rent payments. According to the MIT Living Wage Calculator, two working adults would need to make $19.85 an hour each in order to have a living wage — and that’s before having one child, which would then bring it up to $29.60 with both working. The required annual income before taxes, with both adults working, is $82,580, rising to $123,139 with one child. 

This is why programs, such as Suffolk County’s Down Payment Assistance Program, are necessary to secure the future of our towns. The program could provide eligible first-time homebuyers with up to $30,000 for a down payment for a single-family residence that they must live in for at least 10 years. 

While this may just be for the down payment, it can potentially still help couples from falling into the trap of becoming “house poor,” a situation in which a large amount of a person’s income has to go to paying bills covering their home, not leaving them enough money for other obligations and needs.

Furthermore, it is important to remember that young couples are not the only ones who are impacted by Long Island’s unaffordability. Adults aged 60 and over account for roughly 20 percent of Suffolk County’s population according to a 2022 report from the Suffolk County Office for the Aging. Many find themselves having to retire elsewhere, forcing them to leave behind decades of relationships and memories in exchange for more affordable prices.

Overall, the Down Payment Assistance Program is a great step toward keeping Long Island affordable, but a systemic change seems increasingly necessary to stop everyone, across all age demographics, from being forced to choose between affordable housing and a neighborhood they love.