By Kathryn G. Menu
In 2008, with an expected $2.54 million coming into the coffers of the newly founded Sag Harbor Community Housing Trust, residents of the greater Sag Harbor community were poised to see an affordable housing program take flight to specifically address their needs.
But it was derailed as funding for the trust was stalled as the impact of the economic downturn and housing crisis began to hit the East End in 2009. Now, it appears as the economy recovers, there will be a future for workforce housing in Sag Harbor as the housing trust regroups in anticipation of receiving its first chunk of funding next spring.
On Tuesday night, the architect and co-founder of the housing trust, Gregory Ferraris, approached the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees to announce the trust was back on track after years of stasis and actively looking for new members for its board.
The $2.54 million the housing trust originally hoped to leverage to provide housing opportunities was directly tied to the development of the Watchcase condominiums at the former Bulova Watchcase Factory. While being reviewed by the village in 2008, the Suffolk County Planning Commission handed down a mandate for 20-percent on-site affordable housing – a mandate eventually overruled by both the planning and zoning board of appeals. Instead, they asked developers provide cash in lieu of housing contribution to the housing trust – an organization conceived by then-mayor Ferraris.
In addition to funding from the Watchcase condominium project, the housing trust also stands to benefit from inclusionary zoning that mandates either on-site affordable housing, provide housing off-site or pay into a designated trust.
However, the housing crisis and recession in 2008 and 2009 stalled the construction of the Watchcase condominiums. On Tuesday night, Ferraris said with that project back on track, the housing trust has reconstituted its board. Ferraris and real estate broker Stacy Pennebaker remain board members, but hope to get more community members and business leaders involved with the workforce housing movement in Sag Harbor.
The not-for-profit’s bylaws allow a board of seven, and on Wednesday, Ferraris said while he hopes for a well rounded board that includes attorneys and developers familiar with real estate projects, his ultimate goal is to have a board truly committed to the cause.
“I want people that are interested in being a part of this and really willing to put in the time and the effort into developing an appropriate strategy moving forward,” he said.
The Sag Harbor Community Housing Trust’s original goal was to leverage the $2.5 million from the Watchcase developers to provide low interest financing and down payment assistance to residents within the Sag Harbor fire district. The organization also pledged to support initiatives to increase the apartment stock in Sag Harbor, and if possible seek out parcels of land or existing buildings for development.
On Tuesday, Ferraris noted much has changed – including the requirements to qualify for a mortgage – and the board’s first goal will be to revisit what kind of housing program would be most effective for Sag Harbor. Planning board member Neil Slevin has reached out to the Nantucket Affordable Housing Trust in an effort to learn what has, and what has not, been successful there.
Ferraris added the village board would need to address its code if the housing trust is in fact going to be the recipient of these funds. While the money is committed to the housing trust in the Watchcase condominium’s approval, the language in the workforce housing section of the code is not clear, he said.
Creating housing through a not-for-profit, as opposed through the village itself, allows any workforce housing plan much more flexibility, said Ferraris. Income requirements can be relaxed and preference can be given to certain members of the community, like local volunteers.
Trustee Ed Deyermond agreed the flexibility of the not-for-profit is critical and praised the group for moving forward.
“I would much rather us just adjust the code and get your names in there as recipients,” he said.