The Long Island Workforce Housing, which mandates inclusionary zoning for all of Nassau and Suffolk counties, passed the state assembly and the senate and was sitting on Governor David Patterson’s desk yesterday awaiting his signature. However Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot has another name for the law, the Long Island Housing Developers Windfall Act.
Kabot, as well as the rest of the town board, fear the law was not vetted at the local level to the extent it should have been. The main issues the town would like to see addressed involve the developers’ ability to opt out when it comes to providing mandated affordable housing.
The way the law is written, any developer seeking to build five or more units would receive a density bonus of ten percent, with all units created through the bonus being affordable workforce units. But Kabot believes that’s where it gets a little dicey, specifically concerning a developer’s option to not build the extra units and instead pay money into a workforce housing trust. The provision has the potential to essentially let a developer pay $200,000 into a housing trust and then build a unit on a lot and sell it, pocketing perhaps millions of dollars.
There are essentially four opt out alternatives, the first being the developer deciding not to build to maximum density which would exempt him from the law altogether. The second alternative allows the developer to simply build the units onsite. But it’s really the remaining two that the supervisor would like to see re-worked. She has contacted State Assemblyman Fred Thiele who has promised, in the case that the law is indeed adopted, which she believes it will be, to pursue chapter amendments in Albany.
“In the event it goes into law,” said Kabot, “there are always ways to amend laws.”
One opt out provision allows the developer to build the affordable units offsite, anywhere in the town. Councilman Dan Russo pointed out that this provision would simply facilitate what has traditionally been the case with affordable housing in the town.
“School districts like Flanders, Hampton Bays and North Sea will continue to get the bulk of the affordable housing,” said Russo.
Kabot echoed his concerns and pointed out that areas like Sagaponack would remain virtually affordable-housing free if developers are simply allowed to transfer the units.
But it is the last alternative, the housing trust, which has Kabot most concerned. A developer is also allowed to opt out and pay a fee in lieu of building units. The way the law is currently written, a developer can either pay twice the area median income of a family of four, which in Southampton comes to roughly $194,200, or the appraised value of the affordable lot.
Town attorney Dan Adams pointed out that, given the vale of land, a developer is most likely to go with the lesser of the two fees.
“If [the development] is in a place where the land value is very high,” he said, “it’s their unfettered right to make one of those choices. With the straight economics of it, they will take the choice that makes the most economic sense to them as a developer.”
“The read is that the developer is in the driver’s seat,” said Kabot, “instead of the town.”
Kabot is also concerned with another aspect of the law, which states that if a developer chooses to pay the fee in lieu of building the units, the town has up to three years to construct the units before it is turned over to the Long Island Housing Partnership. At that point, the not-for-profit is allowed to use 50 percent of the money to build units anywhere in the town while the remaining 50 percent is placed in a revolving loan fund for down-payment assistance to eligible home buyers anywhere on Long Island.
Kabot said while the Long Island Housing partnership is a laudable organization — the town has worked with it in the past, including on the Bridgehampton Mews affordable housing project — it is her belief that the town should be able to decide which not-for-profit should get the money. She also mentioned the town’s own housing authority as a possible option.
Russo said he did not view the three-year window as a major concern.
“In three years, if we can’t do something [with the properties], then shame on us,” he said. “It’s almost like a mandated kick in the butt to the town, which I think some of us need, myself included.”
Top Photo: Southampton Town CPF Manager Mary Wilson explins the new CPF legislation at a twon board work session. (Bayles photo)