I recently met with Curtis Highsmith, Jr., Executive Director of the Town of Southampton Housing Authority, and Rebecca Downs, its Rental Subsidy Program Coordinator, at their headquarters on Springville Road in Hampton Bays. We started the discussion by identifying the responsibilities of the HA.
CH: The Town has contracted with the HA to administer the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program as well as the Community Development Block Grant Programs, and the management of the Project Based HA owned properties.
What is the status of the Voucher Program?
CH: As of July 21, 2014 we had to close our Waiting List. There are approximately ten times more people in need of housing assistance than the Federal government provides funds to serve. This program provides assistance for low income applicants in the private rental market. When I came on board as Executive Director there were 3,000 names on the waiting list. (Author’s Note: Tenants who meet HUD requirements pay no more than 30 percent of their income towards rent and HUD pays the difference to the landlord up to the fair market value as determined by HUD.)
What are the eligibility preferences that both HUD and the Town Board have approved?
RD: The preferences are living or working in the Town of Southampton, handicapped, 62 years of age or older, victims of domestic violence, veterans, displaced people, and community volunteers for at least five years, such as firefighters and EMT workers.
CH: Due to the aging of our population, there is a growing need of housing for those who serve the community in the way Rebecca just stated. Those people, as well as educators and Town Hall workers, do not qualify for Section 8, but those whose incomes limit their ability to buy or rent in Southampton, we have to develop housing opportunities for them to survive as a community.
What are the Project Based properties that the HA owns and manages under multi-family housing?
RD: Hampton Bays Apartments is a 36-unit complex for residents, 90 percent of whom must be 62 years of age or older and for those who are disabled regardless of age. They are all one bedroom units with amenities such as universal access entries and chairlifts. An outside management company maintains the property along with our live-in superintendent, who occupies the 37th unit.
Let me pose a point about developing housing for senior citizens. It has been argued, that communities are more receptive to that type of housing than housing for families. Would you speak to that?
CH: Yes, I do want to speak to that. It’s a violation of Fair Housing Law to develop one type of housing to exclude others, such as families with children. We and the Town can be sued for discrimination. Discrimination against affordable family housing is based on a perception that these families are not worthy, that they are troublesome, it’s based on what they look like, not the facts. The perception is not what the workforce is. We attempt to address environmental issues as well as concerns of over building, but the opposition is not based on the facts. I believe if you give people a quality project, they will act accordingly.
RD: HUD is also promoting mortgage subsidies for those who qualify for home purchases, not just rentals. That provides opportunities for families to hand down the properties generationally, just like any other home ownership. Ownership is the ultimate goal.
CH: This approach breaks the chain of intergenerational subsidy and creates a new chain of ownership, no longer requiring subsidization.
What are some of the other efforts that the HA has taken to address the need of affordable housing?
CH: In the past year and a half, the HA has built and sold to first-time homebuyers, nine single family homes in Flanders, two in East Quogue, one in Hampton Bays, and three in the Village of Southampton. We own and rent a single family home in Flanders Riverside. We are building four homes to be sold in Flanders Riverside. We have Town approval and are waiting for permits to build 28 below market rental units in Sandy Hollow, which we will have in the very near future. We have a funding stream for Tax Credits and we expect a two-year build out.
An obstacle to the development of affordable housing has been densities under zoning that do not provide a developer with the economies of scale to make it cost efficient and return a profit. What are your thoughts on that?
CH: That’s absolutely true. And that’s why we have to embrace those few developers out there who are passionate enough about the need for affordable housing and recognize the benefits of Tax Credits as a way to offset the returns that aren’t huge. We have aligned ourselves with developers who meet that criteria.
Author’s Note: A number of local governments, including Suffolk County prohibit discrimination based on lawful source of income, including Section 8. Three real estate brokerage companies were recently penalized a total of $88,000 and ordered to change their administrative procedures by New York Attorney General, Eric T. Schneiderman for discrimination against Section 8 tenants. He said in an announcement on May 23, 2016, “Turning away individuals from an apartment based on lawful source of income is a blatant form of discrimination.”