Pictured Above: The proposed affordable housing in Sag Harbor.

The rubber is about to meet the road for the East End’s Community Housing Funds, as money from real estate transactions begins to come in to the coffers of individual funds in four of the five East End towns (Riverhead has declined to participate).

Last year’s concerted push to get voters to say yes to the ballot referendums creating the funds brought members of the public out to share their stories about why community housing is a necessity here, and what it will mean to keep this a place where working people can live.

The public support at the ballot boxes made clear that, in the privacy of the voting booth, community housing is something that people here value.

But the work is far from finished. In order to make housing happen, advocates need to continue to make their voices heard on code change proposals and innovative new zoning tools — some of which do not yet exist — to make this housing a reality.

Having local towns and villages custom-design their codes to meet the needs of their constituents is the key to the success of affordable housing programs. The backlash against New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s plan to mandate housing from Albany — which held up the state budget throughout April before being jettisoned — makes clear that local control and input is going to be the key to getting the public on board with community housing plans.

That means that advocates for affordable housing need to stay engaged in the process, delivering constructive comments on a wide range of code changes in the works before towns and villages. 

Make no mistake, lawsuits seeking to overturn these new codes are going to be a part of the future. As we’ve seen recently in Sag Harbor, a well-intentioned affordable housing code has been annulled by the New York State Supreme Court after a developer took advantage of the code to pitch a massive housing complex that would have dramatically altered the face of a small village. 

It’s this type of proposal that could rapidly destroy the goodwill being built around community housing. Incremental change may be a difficult pill to swallow for those of us who know full well the dire need for housing, but more patience, unfortunately, is necessary. 

One approach by local governments has gained some traction in recent months — proposals by municipalities to build small complexes on government-owned land. From the Bridgehampton Senior Center to a request for proposals for housing on land owned by Southold Town in Peconic to a plan put forth by a Sag Harbor Village Trustee to build housing adjacent to the village’s firehouse, these small complexes will have oversight by the government agencies that answer to the people at large, and in many cases they will be on property that is already being used to promote the public good. 

That’s a powerful thing. And it’s far easier to rally public support around development that doesn’t disturb natural lands.

We also need far better tools to encourage accessory apartments, and many East End towns are revisiting their codes to make it easier for homeowners to build such apartments, and to encourage conversion of existing buildings to multi-family homes. East Hampton and Southold towns have hearings where people can weigh in on these proposals in May.

Many local people are already doubling up in homes designed for one family. We need new ways to make this a safe practice without breaking the bank accounts of people who are already struggling. 

Down payment assistance loans will also prove to be a valuable tool to help local people compete in the existing housing market.

Members of the public will have a chance to weigh in on these proposals in the weeks and months ahead. Make your voice heard. It matters — for you, your children, and for generations to come who want to keep this place a community, and not just a gated enclave for the super-wealthy.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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