In July, the Town of Southold released its Comprehensive Plan including steps to make housing more affordable.
The report, developed under the guidance of the Town’s Planning Department, points out that the Federal Government considers housing “unaffordable” if it costs greater than 30 percent of income. The report further shows, according to a recent survey, almost 50 percent of Southold renters pay over 30 percent of their income on housing and over 30 percent of homeowners pay over 30 percent of their income to purchase a home. To put these statistics in perspective, in 2017 the median income for all households in Southold Town was $81,158 and the median home price $565,000. Half the households would qualify for homes under the $202,900 ceiling. The report states: “Many families could not afford their present home if they were to buy it at today’s prices.”
In a recent exchange of emails I had with Town Supervisor Scott Russell regarding the challenges to the development of affordable housing, he offered the following, “As I see it, one frustration was the result of a lack of options because of infrastructure (sewers, etc.) and a lack of affordable grant opportunities from federal or state sources. This meant that very few contractors were willing to even consider projects, and the few who did, did the math and didn’t want to pursue their concept. However, that is changing rapidly. We have income coming in because of the buy-out that is permitted in the inclusionary zoning requirements. With that income, the Housing Advisory Commission can take over the role of identifying the projects that are compelling and meet our goals and offer offsets to costs to encourage the development of new proposals. In fact, the commission now has an account of $600,000 and earmarked $250,000 of that to the Vineyard View project. Without that money it would not have proceeded.”
The buy-out that Supervisor Russell referred to is a requirement that developers of major sub-divisions (a single parcel divided into five or more parcels) build affordable units among fair market units or pay monies that the Town deposits into a fund to build affordable housing elsewhere in the Town.
The CPF or Community Preservation Fund Tax, known as the “Peconic Tax,” refers to legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Fred Thiele and State Senator Kenneth LaValle. It proposes a .5 percent increase be added to the 2 percent tax on unimproved properties on the amount over $75,000, and over $150,000 on improved properties to be used for affordable housing. The bill has passed the legislature, has not yet been signed by the governor, and would have to be approved by a referendum of voters to become effective. Supervisor Russell offered, “If that legislation becomes law, the Housing Advisory Commission will have a key role in allocating resources to new projects to make them viable.”
Vineyard View is a fifty-unit affordable housing project to be constructed in Greenport.
Supervisor Russell emphasized the Town’s intention to continue to implement code changes that allow homeowners and businesses to create accessory apartments and incentivize developers to create small apartment developments. Homeowners can rent these apartments at market rate. Accessory apartments in existing structures such as detached garages and rented to qualified renters would also be permitted.
Suffolk County’s 72-H Program, in which the Town participates, will enable the Town to acquire ownership of homes subject to tax foreclosures after the statutory period of redemption has expired. The costs of renovation will be less than new construction, will not require the acquisition of new land, and will enhance the value of surrounding properties. The buy-out funds described earlier may be used to acquire and rehabilitate these properties. This makes for a cost-effective approach to the development of affordable housing.
A proposal being considered is participation in HUD’s Section 202 Program. This is a federal program whereby HUD (Housing & Urban Development) joins with non-profit developers to construct housing for residents 55 years and older.
A suggestion included in the plan is to examine the merits of creating a Housing Authority such as those that exist in the Towns of Southampton and East Hampton which administer the Towns’ Section 8 rental programs.