By Mara Certic
Last year a Georgica estate sold for $147 million, giving East Hampton the distinction of having the most expensive single-family house in the country. This year, Southampton’s Coopers Neck Lane was named the 11th-priciest street in America. But as the local real estate market continues to boom, governments in both towns are having to address another issue: the dire need for affordable housing.
The Southampton Town Board is slated to hold a preliminary hearing on a housing development planned for Water Mill on May 7. The developers, Phil Young and Joel Kaye, are asking the board to consider a Planned Development District (PDD) to change the zoning of the property, located east of the Water Mill Shoppes shopping center on Montauk Highway in order to allow 48 townhouses to be built there.
The town’s comprehensive plan requires PDDs to provide a benefit for the greater community at large. And according to the plan for the Water Mill Village Townhouses, the benefit of the project would be the applicant’s donation of $3 million, estimated to be 25 percent of the value of the development, to the Southampton Housing Authority to be used for affordable housing—none of it onsite.
A report accompanying the application points out that residents qualifying for affordable housing would not be able to pay “the expenses required for the upkeep of this complex.”
“The major issue with any type of project is acquisition costs,” Curtis Highsmith, the executive director of the Southampton Housing Authority, said this week, explaining that often the authority must apply for tax credits and grants in order to fund projects, which lengthens the process.
“Having the resources upfront gives us purchasing power, and more control in terms of development and keeping things local,” he said, adding that three local construction companies have donated materials and sweat equity for a recent housing project on Bailey Road in Southampton.
Mr. Highsmith has been scouting potential properties for affordable housing in Water Mill, so that the hamlet could be the beneficiary of the $3 million donation.
“The major issue is the resource, which is the land, and how to keep the units affordable. Also, a lot of people are concerned that it devalues your neighborhood, which is such a barbaric and unrealistic mindset. It doesn’t do anything other than embrace a division of individuals that, frankly, we need to start taking focus on,” he added.
“I’m glad we have a town board that has the courage to stand up and say it’s necessary,” he said.
This week in East Hampton, the town board was updated on the affordable housing options available through both the town and private nonprofits. Michael DeSario, chairman of St. Michael’s Windmill Housing Associates, has recently been involved in a project to develop a 48-unit affordable housing project in Wainscott.
There are several affordable housing developments in the town, all of which are full, and the waiting lists continue to grow. It is estimated that there are at least 600 people currently waiting for affordable housing in the town.
“East Hampton is aging and it’s not to its benefit,” Mr. DeSario said on Monday afternoon, adding that one of the ideas behind the Wainscott plan would be to provide housing for young people who are having a hard time affording to live on the East End. “Even Hampton Bays is getting expensive. We’re hoping this will be an alternative,” he said.
Mr. DeSario estimated that one-bedroom apartments in the proposed Wainscott project would rent for about $850 a month. In affordable housing, rent is often calculated based on 30 percent of the tenant’s income, he explained.
Officials of the Wainscott School District, however, have complained that affordable housing could bring in too many school-age children, placing a burden on the district. A study by the town Planning Department and the applicant, however, have projected that the development would only bring in about 24 to 28 children. About one third of those children would attend the one-room Wainscott School, which teaches only children in kindergarten through third grade, with other children sent to schools in East Hampton.
Plans for the development also stipulate that a certain number of units would be reserved for seniors, the disabled and veterans, which would limit the number of children in the development.
It will take at least five years to get the complex built, Mr. DeSario added, which he said would give the district enough time to plan for the extra students.
“You have to look at East Hampton as one town and one community,” Mr. DeSario said, adding that there are several affordable housing units spread throughout the town including in Montauk, Springs. “It’s sort of like Wainscott’s turn,” he added.
Katy Casey, the director of the East Hampton Housing Authority, told the board of a conceptual plan for an energy-efficient , transgenerational housing project she is working on, although she said she had not found a site for it yet. Her proposal would have many amenities, including an onsite wastewater treatment plant, a community building and WiFi throughout. Certain percentages of the apartments would be earmarked for those with different income levels, in an effort to create a fully integrated, affordable and attainable housing development in the town.