By Kathryn G. Menu
The Southampton Housing Authority is reaching out to local citizen advisory and community groups in an effort to develop a five-year plan to create affordable housing in Southampton Town that is tailor-made to suit its various hamlets and villages.
On Monday, May 24, Southampton Housing Authority Executive Director Richard Blowes and business manager Ann Gajowski presented the housing authority’s mission to the Bridgehampton Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) and asked the membership for support and ideas as it develops its business plan for the future. Earlier this month, Blowes and Gajowski made a similar entreaty to the Sag Harbor CAC.
The Southampton Housing Authority will work in tandem with the town’s housing office, although it is its own entity. Gajowski explained the authority has also set up a not-for-profit arm, which enables it to bond for its own projects and seek financing through government grants.
Currently, the housing authority owns the Hampton Bays apartments, a 37-unit complex for seniors and the disabled, which Gajowski noted has a waiting list hundreds deep. It also boasts nine foreclosed parcels – all west of the canal – given to the authority by Suffolk County for affordable housing initiatives.
“But we are here tonight to work on a business plan, a business plan that works within each different neighborhood,” said Gajowski, later adding their hope to eliminate the feeling in some communities that affordable housing projects are being “crammed down your throats.”
“We want to identify what is affordable, what is not, what is the supply, what is the demand,” said Gajowski.
Blowes said he normally begins meetings noting that across Southampton everyone seems to agree with one thing – that the region is in need of affordable housing.
“There is no silver bullet,” he added, noting it will take several kinds of affordable housing initiatives to make a dent in demand.
Researching rural housing authorities, Blowes said he has learned that “less is more” in some cases. For example, in Tuckahoe a developer in a planned development district has planned 16 affordable units that Blowes said he doubts will be affordable when rent and maintenance fees come into play. He said he would instead advocate the developer retain eight units to sell or rent at market and give the authority the remainder to run as affordable units.
Blowes said he would also like to develop a program where he is able to offer the housing solely to those working or volunteering in Southampton – something the authority is unable to do when it accepts properties from the county or other municipal sources and grants, which often have their own, clear-cut requirements for the housing.
He said the authority was also interested in working with existing properties rather than adding to density by building new affordable units.
“In many cases, those people will be our own families,” said Blowes noting while his generation is known as the Baby Boomers, his own children’s is now known as the Boomerangs, with many coming home to live with their parents just as his own son has despite running a successful technical business.
Blowes said the authority would like to see if communities would support something similar to a real estate transfer tax, adding if sellers of properties valued over $2 million paid half of one percent towards affordable housing the town would have an estimated $3 million to work with annually. Tax credits and other incentives for developers looking to develop in planned development districts and are willing to include affordable housing is also being explored, he said.
“One of the things this community could provide is aid from our substantial residents in doing what you are trying to do,” said CAC Chairman Fred Cammann, noting the Bridgehampton community may be low on land for development, but has financial resources in its citizenry.
“There are a lot of derelict properties that are eyesores and not getting any better, continuing to fall a part,” added Richard Bruce, noting the community would certainly support affordable housing development there. Bruce wondered if the former Bulova Watchcase Factory in Sag Harbor could be condemned and made into affordable housing, which Blowes said the Sag Harbor CAC advocated the authority explore for housing in the village.
“It’s just that we don’t want to take on more than we can chew and we want to have a good foundation in place,” said Blowes.
Blowes urged the CAC to reach out to fellow community members for input and said he promised to return once a draft five-year plan has been created, likely in two months time.
“I can commit to you we will not start anything without coming directly to the community or CAC.”