The Island’s Changing Face
NEW IMMIGRANTS Harmeet and Meenakshi Bherara, left, with Naman, 8, and Rabani, 14. Mohinder Singh Taneja, far right, is with the county office of minority affairs.
EARLIER this month, after looking at more than 130 houses, Harmeet and Meenakshi Bherara of Roslyn paid $1.55 million for a 6,200-square-foot six-bedroom house in Woodbury with an in-ground pool.
The neighborhood “is more of what I would like my kids to have growing up,” said Mr. Bherera, the chief technology officer in a computer business.
His daughter, 14, and his son, 8, are “are the biggest asset I have,” he said. “If I provide them with the right forest, they will grow up into stronger trees.”
What the Bheraras found in their new gated community, and in the Syosset schools that their children will attend, is a blend of ethnicities that reflects the increasingly diverse face of Long Island. The Bheraras are the fifth Asian Indian family to move into their 34-home development. There are also a handful of Chinese and Korean residents.
“It’s a good mixture,” Mr. Bherara said. “I am a big fan of diversity; we learn a lot from other cultures.”
According to Lawrence Levy, the executive director of National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, the Island’s new immigrants are “sustaining the real estate market.”
“Without this influx of people who are ready to buy homes, and in some cases significant properties, the housing market would have collapsed farther than it did,” Mr. Levy said.
As with the generation of immigrants in the suburban boom after World War II, he added, this is a “dynamic demographic change” that is “literally and figuratively changing the face of Long Island.”
And it is happening in an area with “a reputation of being one of the most segregated suburbs in America.” Among the changing municipalities are Levittown and East Meadow, as well as more expensive spots like the Brookvilles, Syosset and Laurel Hollow.
Seth Foreman, the chief planner for the Long Island Regional Planning Council, projected that by 2035, the Asian population will have risen to 9 percent from 5.1 percent; the Hispanic population to 18 percent from 13.3 percent; and the African-American population to 11 percent to 9.5 percent. The white population would concurrently drop to 81 percent from 83.7 percent.
According to census data, 19 communities, including Elmont, Freeport and Hempstead have morphed into minority enclaves over the last two decades. Mr. Levy described the majority of the new immigrants as well-educated and having good jobs.
He also sees the immigrant influx helping offset the “brain drain” of young people from the Island. These immigrants — Asian-Americans of Chinese, Pacific Island, Korean and Indian backgrounds as well as increasingly affluent Latinos — are “the key to our economic and social survival,” he added.
The implications of this growing diversity are the subject of a conference, “The Diverse Suburb: History, Politics, and Prospects,” from Oct. 22 to 24 at Hofstra.
It isn’t only planners and academics who are noticing this shift. “Neighborhoods that were more homogenous are becoming more heterogeneous,” said Michelle N. Cohen, an executive vice president at Century 21 Laffey Associates in Greenvale. She cited a Chinese family whose main residence is in Hong Kong as recently signing a contract on one of her Brookville listings — a five-bedroom expanded ranch on two acres, with $2.095 million asking price. In the last few years, she added, rather than “yuppie couples,” she has seen many more immigrants moving up from Queens. Similarly, she described doctors and business people from Asia, Russia, Israel and Greece, buying homes ranging from $500,000 to $3 million on the North Shore.
Eva Lee Wexler, an agent with Prudential Douglas Elliman in Port Washington, said that in the last six months she had been working with deep-pocketed buyers from China, where real estate is pricey and still climbing. “They come in buying with cash,” she said, looking for 5,000- to 6,000-square-foot colonials in the $2 million to $3 million range, no mortgage needed.
“They want to live better” and educate their children here, Ms. Wexler said. “They want the American dream.”
High-end buyers in Korea are shopping the Internet to determine which Long Island school districts excel, so they can make a real estate deal, added David C. Lee, the president of the Korean American Public Affairs Committee and a resident of Oyster Bay Cove. Herricks, Syosset and Jericho school districts are heavily Asian.
“The real estate value in Korea is quite high compared to America,” Mr. Lee said. “They can have a house on the Island and a small business at the same time.” More than 60,000 Koreans live on the Island.
Mohinder Singh Taneja, the director of Outreach Initiatives for the Nassau County Office of Minority Affairs, said the county’s South Asian population had swelled in the last decade to 20,000 families, with Hicksville as its commercial hub.
Manjeet Bawa, the chief executive of Simran Funding in Hicksville, a private real estate fund, said that with prices down, South Asian young professionals living in the boroughs were buying large colonials on the North Shore. “Raising a family on the Island,” Mr. Bawa said, “that is something that people in our community still look forward to.”
But Harvinder Anand, the mayor of Laurel Hollow, who was born in New Delhi, expressed doubt that the influx would continue at quite the same rate. Since the backlash from the 2001 terror attacks, he said, emigrating to the United States has “lost its charm” and “highly talented people aren’t interested.”
Mr. Anand added that although first-generation immigrants who settled in Queens previously made a seamless progression to the local suburbs, “now a very large percentage” relocate to states like Georgia and North Carolina, where “they see more opportunity” and real estate is cheaper.
Influxes of this kind do tend to happen in waves. In Kings Point, at the tip of the Great Neck peninsula, for example, a mass arrival of Persian Jews that began 30 years ago has transformed the village. In the last few years, nearly all buyers have been Persians, said Anita Aharonoff, an agent with Janet Etessami Realty in Great Neck.
Stemming assimilation and the flight of young people off the Island is a priority in this tight-knit community of 9,000. To keep their families intact, Ms. Aharonoff said, parents in Kings Point often buy their children homes or apartments nearby when they get married.
“They train their kids to marry somebody in the community,” she said.