Southampton Closes Housing Loophole

It takes many hands, and many ideas, to find solutions for the East End’s housing crisis. Southampton Town took one such step in May.

A loophole in New York State’s Long Island Workforce Housing Act has cost Southampton Town 14 affordable houses since the program was adopted in 2009, but, with the help of enabling legislation from New York State, the Southampton Town Board voted unanimously May 23 to close that loophole.

The problem was brought to the board’s attention by Councilwoman Christine Scalera, who has been working with State Assemblyman Fred Thiele to close the loophole.

Assistant Town Attorney Carl Benincasa explained the loophole at a public hearing May 23.

“If you build a subdivision of five or more units, you’re given a density bonus, which would require that 10 percent be added to the total yield for affordable housing,” said Mr. Benincasa, who added that the affordable housing doesn’t have to be built on the same site as the market rate housing and developers can pay into a fund in lieu of building the homes.

But, he said, if developers build less than the maximum number of houses on a given lot, they’re exempt from the Long Island Workforce Housing Program.

Mr. Benincasa said the town has found that builders have been taking advantage of the exemption since the law was enacted, resulting in 14 fewer affordable homes east of the Shinnecock Canal.

Numerous people spoke in favor of closing the loophole at the public hearing.

Citing “extraordinary need” for affordable housing in Southampton Town, Kathryn Szoka of Progressive East End Reformers said the group strongly supports the legislation, and commends Councilwoman Scalera for working to close the loophole.

“This will only solve a portion of the problem. It is one of the building blocks we need to take towards allowing more workforce housing in our areas,” she said.

Ms. Szoka added that she’d love to see the houses built in the same location as the subdivisions, instead of money going into the fund.

“Sometimes funds don’t really get the housing where it needs to be,” she said, adding that money from projects east of the Shinnecock Canal should be used for housing east of the canal.

She added that diverse, multifamily and multi-use development is helpful to the economy.

Real estate agent Michael Daly, a member of the town’s Anti-Bias Task Force, said the task force believes there should be “affordable housing and workforce housing and safe and comfortable housing for seniors in every one of the villages throughout the township.”

“People think real estate agents sit around waiting for billionaires to call… I spend a lot of my time dealing with people who are saying ‘hey, I need a place to live. Do you have anything for $2,500 a month,” he said. “I used to laugh, but I don’t laugh anymore about that. I say, geez, I’m so sorry.”

Diana Weir, who is slated to take office as the director of housing in the town’s land management department this month, said she hopes the housing remains in the same school district if it isn’t built on the site of the subdivision.

“We have the hardest time building affordable housing because of NIMBYism,” she said. “If building off-site, we should really be building within the same school district. The land is precious where they’re building this, so they want to put it somewhere a little less expensive, but that puts a burden on other school districts.”

Al Algieri of East Quogue said closing the loophole is “a fantastic plan.”

“This morning at 7:30, the traffic was backed up to Westhampton Beach,” he said. “There was a delay of an hour and 30 minutes.”

“We need the affordable housing,” he added. “We’ll have less cars on the road going out to work.”

Vicki Hillis of Hampton Bays said she believes affordable housing should be guided by changing the financing structure of mortgages, not by adding density.

“I’m so tired of the community paying by increased density so their family members or friends or people who might help them in hospital have a place to live,” she said. “The only one who benefits is the developer.”

Retired Deputy State Housing Commissioner Myron Holtz, who lives in North Sea, said he hopes the board members make the housing available to families, and urged them to require the housing be in the same subdivision as the market-rate homes.

“Put it right in the community where the new housing is being built,” he said. “I applaud you for recognizing this and taking action.”

Councilman John Bouvier shared a story he’d recently heard of a doctor looking for housing for a young intern at Southampton Hospital, and not being able to find anywhere they could afford.

“The face of affordable housing is a place for people to live who serve our community,” he said. “Thank you, Christine. I think this is good legislation.”

Mr. Holtz recommended the state look into housing for doctors at the campus of Stony Brook Southampton, which is slated to eventually become the new home of Southampton Hospital.

“We’ve done it all over the state,” he said. “You have enough vacant land to build staff housing for residents, financed with mortgages from the State of New York. It can be done. You just have to have the will and the focus to meet the need.”

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, 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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