Pictured Above: The Cottages in Mattituck, a 22-unit community of affordably owned homes often held up as a model of a successful North Fork housing development.
We started 2023 filled with optimism about the East End’s ability to make progress on finding attainable housing for people who have long been vital members of our community. Each of the East End towns that had put up a referendum creating a Community Housing Fund had seen the proposal decisively approved by voters, and town plans for how to use the money generated to create and encourage affordable housing had already been put in motion.
But then, in January, New York Governor Kathy Hochul embarked unilaterally on an idea she called the “New York Housing Compact,” using the language of a blood oath to describe an idea that was anathema to everyone she thought she was creating the compact with. The plan would have mandated that individual municipalities clear the way for intense development — whether it was affordable or not — around railroad stations throughout the metropolitan area surrounding New York City (like it or not, that includes the East End). It certainly made no sense in outlying areas along Long Island Rail Road lines that see just a couple of trains per day.
The state legislature hated the plan, which flew in the face of the state’s long-cherished home rule laws, and they swiftly killed it, but not before Republicans seized it as another tool in their quiver in local campaigns against local Democrats, most of whom also opposed the Democratic governor’s plan.
This coming year is neither a local election year nor a governor’s election year, and we’re hopeful the arrows will be stowed for at least long enough to see some bipartisan collaboration on what is truly an existential issue for the future of our region.
Hochul regrouped on her housing efforts this summer, quietly replacing her Housing Compact mandate with an incentive-based program called “Pro-Housing Communities,” which would put municipalities that sign a pledge to create housing in the running for a pot of $650 million for housing and downtown revitalization funding. The state has also launched the “Plus One ADU Program,” which provides grant funding to residents looking to build an accessory apartment on their property.
The Pro-Housing Communities plan looks a lot like East End State Assemblyman Fred Thiele’s proposal to modify the Housing Compact in the State Assembly’s March Budget Resolution, which would have eliminated mandates and zoning overrides in the Housing Compact and replaced them with $500 million in state aid to local municipalities as an incentive to build affordable housing.
As the author of the Community Housing Fund and chair of the state’s Local Government Committee, Fred Thiele’s commitment to attainable housing and home rule and his rational approach to problem-solving are things we can all be thankful for here.
The Village of Greenport, already considered by the state to be an impoverished community despite its recent overwhelming seasonal tourism boom, has been at work on zoning tools to encourage innovative housing solutions. The village took the Pro-Housing Communities pledge in November and, along with its sister port of Sag Harbor across the bay, is likely to be a laboratory for how to build a community with a diversity of housing stock in the years ahead. The rest of the East End would do well to watch what happens in these two villages.
For housing to be done right here, property owners have to be a big part of the solution. They need incentives and clear guidance from local government on how they can contribute to the solutions without losing their equity. Greenport Village residents and property owners need to provide their input on how to make affordable housing work for them as the village drafts its incentive programs.
Farther west, in Riverside, just south of Riverhead, a new sewage treatment plant is finally in the works, which would enable the redevelopment of this long-blighted community. It’s been nearly a decade since Southampton Town hashed out the details of an incentive-based program to build attainable housing there, and handling the septic flow has been a major sticking point. Both Greenport and Sag Harbor already have sewage treatment plants, which will make it easier for these villages to create innovative housing solutions that are unlikely to be a part of the landscape in more rural areas of the East End.
The backlash against the concept of affordable housing complexes in Southold Town has been palpable all year, with the public turning out to rebuke proposals in Peconic and Cutchogue. Candidates for Southold Town office made clear they didn’t think this was the right solution here.
While East Hampton and Southampton towns have had some success with multi-family affordable housing developments, these towns have already seen the full-blown damage the housing crisis has done to local businesses that are unable to staff their shops, schools unable to find teachers and volunteer emergency response agencies that have turned to paid staffing over the course of the past decade.
While Southold may be heading in this direction, the reality of what happens when you tear out the core of a community hasn’t fully sunk in here. Without housing complexes, the burden of creating affordable housing will fall on individual property owners. Whether they decide they want to participate in creating affordable housing will be up to them.
We wanted home rule. This is what it looks like. We all have our work cut out for us.