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MINEOLA � Despite offers for summer associate work two years ago from firms in the city, Patrick Fife chose to take a job with a practice in Garden City because he was committed to a Long Island lifestyle. After all, he grew up in Nassau County, his parents still live on Long Island and he liked the quality-of-life advantages that suburban living could provide for him and his new bride. But now, still on Long Island and bogged down with student loan debt stretched out over 29 years, Mr. Fife is feeling the financial restraints of living in a community where the median price of a home tops $362,000 and the options for rental property are severely limited. “If I’m struggling, I can only imagine how other people are doing it,” said Mr. Fife, who practices business litigation at Nixon Peabody. Heavy debt loads His situation is typical of young lawyers on Long Island who want to settle down here. Most begin practicing with salaries considerably less than those at New York City firms, but they still have enormous debt from law school. Those factors, combined with a constricted housing market on Long Island, can make the American dream a fantasy. Mr. Fife said that many of his friends, attorneys and non-attorneys alike, leave Long Island because it is so expensive to live here. He added that the shortage of housing he and his peers experience pertains to middle class homes, not low-income housing that the public typically associates with “affordable” housing. At 29, Mr. Fife makes good money for a young professional. His starting salary � “in the low 80s” � when he took the job last year was on the high end for beginning associates at Long Island firms. Even so, Mr. Fife and his wife, who is in graduate school studying library science, will move in with his parents in a few months. It will enable them to save a bit and to store their furniture before they close on a townhouse in Bohemia they are buying. “At this stage in my life, I’d really prefer not to have to do that,” he said. Even with a hefty down payment, partially funded by wedding gifts, and with low interest rates, the couple will pay about $2,000 per month for their townhouse located in a modest Suffolk County neighborhood. Tack on to their mortgage the student loans Mr. Fife will be paying off until he turns 58. For that debt, he owes about $400 per month, until the year 2033. He and his wife live in an apartment in Holbrook, paying $1,500 a month for a two-bedroom unit. Mr. Fife’s commute to Garden City from Suffolk County can take up to an hour, but he said finding an apartment closer to work was not possible. “There was nothing in Nassau that we could afford with our salary,” he said. “We got an apartment in Suffolk just so that we weren’t on top of each other.” With median sales prices for homes in Nassau County running at about $400,000 and $325,000 in Suffolk County, ownership is cost prohibitive for the majority of young professionals on Long Island, said Jim Morgo, president of the Long Island Housing Partnership. His nonprofit organization develops and promotes affordable home ownership. The term “affordable” is fluid, Mr. Morgo said, but his group facilitates ownership for individuals and families making less than 80 percent of the median income on Long Island. For a household of two, that number equals about $55,000 annually, he said, adding that the Housing Partnership has helped many young attorneys on Long Island buy homes. The shortage of affordable and middle-income housing is the most pressing economic issue Long Island faces, Mr. Morgo maintains. “It’s a prescription for economic disaster because young people leave,” he said. “You won’t have workers, and you won’t have consumers.” The Housing Partnership, together with numerous business organizations, including the Long Island Association, is calling for support of a bill pending in the state Legislature that would set aside a percentage of new development for affordable housing. Known as the Long Island Workforce Housing Initiative, it would require all development of more than five units to reserve 10 percent for affordable housing. Those homes would be available for people earning less than 80 percent of the median income on Long Island. The bill passed the Assembly this month and is awaiting action by the Senate, where it likely will face obstacles from a contingent concerned about housing density, Mr. Morgo said. Jaspan Schlesinger Hoffman Managing Partner Steven R. Schlesinger describes the housing situation on Long Island as a “big-time problem” not only for associates but also in recruiting support staff to fill openings. He said that a law firm, with all of its business connections in the community, may be able to “wheedle a place” for associates to rent or buy, but helping to find homes for lower wage earners is nearly impossible. Although starting lawyers generally have the advantage of receiving a salary higher than that of other beginning professionals, it is the often crippling law school debt that prevents them from buying a home, said Gregory Amoroso, the chairman of the New York State Bar Association Young Lawyers Section. “That’s your mortgage payment already,” he said. He estimated that many law graduates in their 20s leave school shouldering as much as $100,000 in debt. As a result, they cannot afford homes and often delay starting families, Mr. Amoroso said. $15,000 a Semester At Hofstra University School of Law, Mr. Fife’s alma mater, tuition is about $15,000 a semester. At Touro Law Center, students pay about $12,100 each semester. Mr. Amoroso said that the current goal of the Young Lawyers Section is to raise the awareness of law school debt among the profession. “I don’t have any personal solutions,” he said. “We’re just hoping to put it on the radar screen.” Farrell Fritz associate Carrie Foote also considered living with family members to save money to buy a co-op of her own on Long Island. Now renting an apartment in Saint James, she began her job at the Uniondale firm in 2001 strapped with a $100,000 debt that she incurred from loans that paid for her undergraduate and law degrees, which she received from Touro. Her work focuses on commercial real estate. “I thought that maybe I’d move in with them, but it just wasn’t my lifestyle,” said Ms. Foote, 33. She has deferred her federal loans, is paying $400 a month on her private loans and said that she is not planning too far ahead. “I don’t know how other people do it,” she said. Young professionals hoping to escape the confines of city life are more likely to find their choices limited to multi-family housing � co-ops, townhouses and condominiums � than a house with a lawn. Mr. Morgo maintains that designed appropriately, putting more dwellings on smaller pieces of land is the solution to Long Island’s housing shortage. “The real answer is to have higher density,” he said. In the meantime, Ms. Foote plans to work toward paying off her student loans, which she hopes to accomplish by the year 2020.

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