Those in other parts of the Jewish world — that means anywhere outside of the Five Towns — may not be aware that the various enclaves and neighborhoods here are bursting at the seams. This column is about the exponential growth, baruch Hashem, of our community. There are few places here where homes are available, and when a house does become available, often a bidding war ensues because several families are vying for the property.
It is becoming an impossible situation that requires creative and innovative thinking. That is where Town of Hempstead Councilman Bruce Blakeman enters the picture. About two years ago, he shared his vision of an expanded Five Towns for the first time. A plan like his inevitably produces debate and disagreement.
We cannot escape the fact that there is a growing need for housing in the Five Towns — one of the most sought-after and sterling places to reside in the Jewish Diaspora. The demand is such that the borders of the traditional Five Towns have stretched. The old demarcation lines have begun to fade, and people are buying homes in parts of the community no one would have considered years ago.
Demographically, things are shifting in our Jewish community, and the Five Towns stands to benefit in the long-term. Deeply entrenched communities in Brooklyn and Queens are seeing residents begin to emigrate and scatter. Some yeshivas in Brooklyn have seen a marked decline in enrollment as people pick up and move to Lakewood, New Jersey, and surrounding areas such as Toms River and Jackson. The borough of Queens is also shifting, with longtime residents eyeing the Five Towns and finding suitable housing scarce.
Blakeman’s plan calls for a complete revitalization of the area known as North Lawrence. North Lawrence is part of the Town of Hempstead, not part of the Village of Lawrence. The neighborhood flows into adjacent Inwood, where there is a growing frum community. People have been buying homes in North Lawrence over the past two years, perhaps to stay ahead of the curve.
The area is very close to one of the most upscale Long Island neighborhoods. The growing population is spurring a demand to redevelop the area to meet housing needs.
Malkie Hirsch, a real-estate agent with Milky Forst Properties, said the shortage of housing for young as well as not-so-young frum families looking to move to the Five Towns area is profound. “In many cases, people are staying where they are because there are just not enough homes going up for sale,” Hirsch said. “And when a home goes up for sale, in most areas it is probably priced way too high for the average young family with a few children looking to move.”
Councilman Blakeman believes he has the winning formula to deal with the logjam and just about all community leaders we contacted are in agreement: It’s a good and important project for the area.
The project is being billed as the Inwood and North Lawrence Zoning Initiative. According to the descriptive paperwork, the objective is to “create vibrant walkable hamlet centers, each with a distinctive sense of place, around the Inwood and Lawrence LIRR train stations with mixed-use development and housing choices in a sustainable approach to improve the quality of life for the Inwood and North Lawrence residents and the surrounding communities.”
The homes are intended to attract and retain younger and senior populations, create a positive economic environment, improve existing traffic conditions, reduce car ownership and trip generation, improve public safety, and promote wellness and healthy living.
The project is currently in the discussion stages, with a long-term plan to provide housing over a period of five to 10 years.
Sure, that sounds like a long time and not much of a solution for people who are looking to move in the next few months or even next year. But at this juncture, something has got to give and someone has to present an idea that opens up opportunities for families to be able to live in communities where they feel comfortable.
Ari L. is a 35-year-old father of three who is currently renting in Far Rockaway. “I’ve been looking for a home that is affordable in the Five Towns for a few years already, but there is just nothing decent available,” he says. He explains that he has looked in North Lawrence, where the prices are still in the $600,000 range, but now he might wait to see what happens with the new plans.
Mayor Alex Edelman of Lawrence told us that at this point it sounds to him like a good plan that will serve the need for housing in the Five Towns, and that it looks to be an asset that will strengthen the overall community.
Murray Forman, a financier and businessman as well as the president of the Lawrence School District, says he has reservations about the plan. He doesn’t want to see speculators swoop in, buy up properties, and then sell them to young families or the elderly at an inflated price.
We will be monitoring the progress on this project. But regardless of the debate that might ensue, it looks like things are moving forward, new housing is on the way, and that is a good thing.