As Nassau County’s youngest legislator, 26-year-old Joshua Lafazan has his hands full. His rise in the local political realm started at Syosset High School, where he became a trustee on the school board as a senior.
The rest, as they say, is history. Lafazan rapidly worked his way through the community, knocking on doors and making sure everyone knew his name when it came time for the 2017 election. He became a county legislator, representing the 18th District, and he hasn’t looked back.
Besides Lafazan’s busy schedule in the Nassau County Legislature, he also teaches a course at Long Island University, which is focused on teaching students how to run for office.
Lafazan spoke with the Tribune, laying out his 2020 goals, some of which might come into fruition sooner rather than later, such as his plan to give millennials out of college a discount for Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) tickets and creating more affordable housing in Nassau County.
Q: You just started your second term. What are your goals for the new year and the term overall?
A: My first priority is making sure the laws I pass through the legislature are implemented in an effective way. You have 5,000 veterans in Nassau County who are homeless, about to be homeless or are housing insecure. I passed the Dignity for our Heroes package to build housing for these veterans in Nassau County. There’s a committee exploring potential site locations to build the structure. I want to make sure the structure gets built, that it gets built well and every veteran who is homeless in Nassau County has a roof over their head. I passed the food allergy and restaurant safety law, making sure we have signs in every restaurant and food allergy training is put together in a competent package. All restaurants need to have a food safety officer on the premises. I passed a law that established a 24-hour hotline for those suffering from drug abuse and opioid addictions, and I’ll be making sure that hotline is up and running. It should be advertised all over the county. For me, it’s one thing to pass a law, but it’s another thing to make sure that law is carried out. That’s a priority for me this year.
Q: What challenges did you face in your first term?
A: In any government body, it’s incredibly difficult to push legislation in a partisan, polarized environment. As a registered independent, I had to navigate the difficulty of bringing stakeholders from the Democratic and Republican sides together. It’s been very time consuming, but I’m grateful to my colleagues on both sides who have spoken out on issues and backing the legislation on issues that I proposed.
Q: What can you do in this term that you didn’t do in your first one?
A: There’s a couple of major projects that I’m working on. I secured $3 million to revitalize Stillwell Fields, so I have a sense of urgency to move forward, whether it’s through the Town of Oyster Bay or unilateral action at the county level, making sure that project gets done. I secured $400,000 for a new park in Bayville right over the bridge, but that can’t start until the bridge gets done. I secured grants for people all over my district. When it comes to infrastructure, I think the Bayville Bridge is the single most pressing piece of infrastructure the county has. It’s the lifeline for one of the largest villages in the county. People in Bayville suffered through the debacle that was the West Shore Road rebuild for five years. I made sure that bridge would only be closed for two months and one month at a time. My priority is to make sure the bridge gets done on schedule, on budget and with communication.
Nassau County has failed to build adequate affordable housing for the new generation. We’re going to revitalize The Hub by Nassau Coliseum. We’re going to make sure the micro units we built are ones people can afford. They will be smaller apartments that are affordable for younger people. I’m going to make sure we actually build those.
Q: How realistic is for this plan for affordable housing, specifically for people right out of college?
A: I really do believe that it’s a major breakthrough. It’s something that I speak with the county executive almost weekly about. There’s in agreement between legislators that if we don’t build it, we’re going to lose our young people. Quite frankly, at 26 years old, I feel it personally. I’m sick and tired of seeing my friends move to New York City, Texas, North Carolina and Florida because they can’t afford to live here. Our most precious resource is our young people. There’s a very high chance we build these units here. My hope is that we build the units here and that model extrapolates across the county. When you build affordable housing for our young people, it injects life into our downtowns. It gives them disposable income. One of my ideas is to give millennials discounted LIRR tickets. Often times, millennials are faced with two big monthly payments, which are a student loan and a train ticket. Many people opt to pay the student loan, move to the city and pay for a MetroCard. I’m hoping to work with the mayor of Upper Brookville, Elliot Conway, on a pilot program to give millennials in Upper Brookville a discount. This will be a model county wide. I would love to see this done in every corner of the county.
Q: So what’s your idea of affordable housing?
A: It’s going to be on The Hub property. We’re developing this huge lot. Part of the construction will be some industry with high-tech jobs, but housing will be on the premises. I want to give people bus rapid transit to make sure they can get to the Mineola or Carle Place train stations. We know what’s affordable here right now. If you’re a millennial in Syosset, you can rent a house for $3,000 a month. No one wants to rent a house. We want affordable, small apartments with co-living spaces. They’re micro units. I let the county executive and my colleagues know I wouldn’t vote yes on this project if I didn’t get the concession that we were going to build these units. And I’m proud that I was one of the driving factors on it. We voted on it last year and it passed. Now, it needs to go through the Town of Hempstead. I’m confident that what we spoke about with the county executive and the developer, it’s going to come to fruition. It’s an enormous win that’s been a long time coming.
Q: What can you improve on personally?
A: We pride ourselves in our district office on constituent service. We want to get it right on every email, phone call, fax and correspondence. We have Java with Josh now. Once a month on Saturdays, we meet at Mongo’s Coffee with every constituent who has a problem. We can improve our constituent services. It’s a long Saturday with rapid-fire meetings, but there’s no other legislator who takes a meeting with literally every single constituent who has an issue. I think it’s made our constituent services the best in the county.
Q: On the other side of things, what’s it been like to be a professor?
A: It’s been gratifying. I wrote my own course, which teaches young people how to run for office. I always say millennials are the most educated, diverse people in American history. But we’re the most underrepresented demographic in politics. It’s not going to change until we start stepping up and running for office. To see some of my students thinking about running and participating in campaigns, it’s been gratifying.