Many of the about two dozen audience members at the forum asked pointed questions.
Joanne Leffler said that she believes the reason people are moving away from Long Island is because of high taxes, not because of the cost of houses, and she added that she’s concerned that Southold’s affordable housing list, which is prioritized based on where people already live, could be the subject of a lawsuit, as has happened in several communities across the country, including a Texas case that made its way all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell, who sat in the back of the room and participated as a member of the audience, said those cases had involved the use of federal Housing and Urban Development funding, which would likely not be used in Southold.
He added that he believes Southold’s affordable housing goals would be more defensible in court because affordable housing for existing residents is a stated goal in the town’s comprehensive plan.
“We still have to go forward on a case-by-case basis,” he said, adding that, with the town’s uphill battle to win public support for any affordable housing, “I don’t think the public will support affordable housing for everyone far and wide.”
“People are moving elsewhere. There’s a crisis in the schools. We’re losing our kids and the stores are not finding staffing,” added Rona Smith said. “This poor town is going to have no young people, just old people and rich people.”
She added that 41 percent of Southold’s residents are between 45 and 65 years old, and another 40 percent are above 65.
Mr. Russell added that Southold Town has the lowest effective tax rate on Long Island, and that affordable housing built under the town’s new Affordable Housing Overlay District zoning would require advanced septic treatment.
“The people are already producing septic flow here,” he added.
Jeff Strong, who owns Strong’s Marina in Mattituck, said his workers need to be able to live locally, but he also hears from many older clients who would like to downsize into townhouses, but there is no housing stock in Southold to support this need either.
George Lomaga questioned whether subdivision projects currently under consideration would require an affordable housing component.
In larger subdivisions, Southold now requires that either 20 percent of the units be made available at affordable prices or that developers either pay the value of those units into the town’s housing fund or build the units elsewhere. But no one has yet gone through with a project under those requirements.
Mr. Russell said that a proposed subdivision at Jim Bissett’s former estate in Mattituck could require two affordable units, or their equivalent value in payment, and The Heritage at Cutchogue could require 12 units.
Ms. Smith said no money has yet come into that fund, and the town hasn’t yet established guidelines for how it would use that money if it was received.
After about two hours of thoughtful conversation, many members of the community raised their hands when asked by MLCA President Mary Eisenstein if they’d like to continue the dialogue at another in-depth forum.