Tag Archive | "Housing"

Reported Increase in School District Housing Investigations

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By Claire Walla

Sometimes, Janet Verneuille will get a lead.

“It could be from a parent, a landlord or a community member,” the Sag Harbor School District’s Financial Manager ambiguously explained.

And when she does, she’ll start to investigate.

Should Verneuille and her team of Pierson administrators actually find something solidly indicating that a student enrolled in the Sag Harbor School District is using an address that is not the same as his or her primary residence, she’ll hire a private investigator. Because before a school administrator can ask a child to leave the district, he or she needs proof.

In the past, private investigators have been hired by the district on a part-time basis to track students, often on their way home after school. These detectives will monitor whether or not students consistently leave and return to the address indicated on their enrollment forms.

“Legally, we have to do this,” Verneuille rationalized. “It’s legal, it’s ethical… it’s financially [prudent],” she added, elaborating that only those families who pay school taxes in the district should be able to take advantage of the school’s resources at no extra cost. “It’s the right thing to do, to hold people accountable.”

Most recently, her veritable part-time investigative work has focused on an alleged multi-family house somewhere in the Sag Harbor School District. According to her source — which she would only refer to as “a member of the community” — there is a house somewhere in Sag Harbor that is being rented by more than two families with children in the Sag Harbor School District.

What is being disputed is not necessarily the fact that this is a multi-family rental; the issue at hand — should this story hold its weight — is that, as Verneuille was told, the families renting the house each use a different house as their primary residence. In other words, they don’t live in Sag Harbor.

Verneuille said this particular investigation is still in the preliminary stages. With the help of the district’s Director of Technology Scott Fisher, Verneuille is pouring over data to help build a case. She would not comment on whether or not this specific incident is currently being pursued by a private investigator, but the case is still active.

But the most interesting aspect of this issue is not that there is an active investigation going on within the school district, Verneuille continued. This happens all the time; it even happens outside this school district. Without getting into specifics, she added, “I know at least three or four other districts [on the East End] that do it.”

According to Verneuille, what makes this issue interesting is the high volume of people pushing the limits of the law just to break into the Sag Harbor School District. There are currently eight active cases related to allegations of family’s using forged addresses to stay within the school district, and several others that have already been addressed this year. Though she didn’t have the exact figure, Verneuille estimated this is already about double the amount of investigations the district pursued last year.

“I definitely think it’s a compliment,” she said. “We have great programs, our test results are good and our class sizes are small. [This issue] is really a reflection on the quality of the school district.”

Verneuille said she regularly gets several calls a week from families wondering whether or not their houses resides within the school district.

“I had two just last week,” she noted.

While Verneuille would not disclose how many students have actually left the district in the wake of accusations that their families did not in fact live in the district, she did confirm that more than one family has already had to leave since the start of this school year.

Verneuille added that families are not necessarily automatically forced to leave the district. Although, should a family decide to stay in the district after having been found to be falsely enrolled as a district resident, the family would be required to pay tuition, which costs about $24,000 per child. Verneuille said at least two families so far this year have opted to start paying tuition when it was discovered their home address was not zoned for Sag Harbor.

“The good news is sometimes we get tuition that we would have missed otherwise,” she said with a smile.

While Verneuille reiterated that housing investigations are nothing new, she did admit: “I’ve never had this one before.”

Most often, these types of cases come in the way of families that have used false addresses, friends’ addresses and business addresses — she’s never had to deal with a multi-family rental.

As for the current allegations, she said “nothing has been substantiated” and “it could just be a rumor.”

However, Verneuille added that the school is still on the case.

Start Building

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Two weeks ago we learned that the county donated 14 plus properties slated for affordable housing to Southampton Town some seven years ago. To our dismay, we also learned not a single unit has been built on any of them.

It’s no secret that there is a crisis when it comes to affordable housing, or more appropriately the virtual non-existence of it, in many communities here on the East End, especially in Southampton Town. The brain drain it is creating on our communities, driving the youngest and the brightest away in search of communities that actually provide what we cannot seem to – affordable places to live – is a travesty we should all be aware of.

That being said, we were pleased to hear the town’s dissent towards a recent state mandate promoted as a cure all to this crisis. It is called the Long Island Workforce Housing Act and it passed the state assembly, the state senate and is now law. It should more aptly be dubbed the “Let’s Continue to Foster Segregation on Long Island Act.”

The thinly veiled law gives developers the choice to simply buy their way out of building affordable units in the very places that need it most, without any assurance the buyout will actually benefit the community the developer’s targeted in the first place. One opt out provision goes so far as to allow the Long Island Housing Partnership the choice to spend money from the housing trust fund created by the law in places not even located within our county lines. Indeed, the places that need affordable housing the most are not – to the apparent surprise of legislators in Albany –the places where affordable housing already exists, mainly west of the canal as far as Suffolk County goes.

Instead these places are our neighboring communities of Sagaponack, East Hampton, and Water Mill as well as right here in Sag Harbor. These are the places where young people want to live, but can’t because a one bedroom apartment costs $1,700 a month.

Also, the law gives the town a three-year time table before money is turned over to the Long Island Housing Partnership, and given the recent knowledge concerning the aforementioned 14 properties, we are reluctant to believe the town can be trusted to use the money in a timely fashion.

The East End is a place where NIMBYism runs rampant, a places where people say, “I’m all for affordable housing, so long as I don’t have to see it, so long as it’s not in my back yard.” What makes this mindset even more disturbing is the stigma that seems to exist around any affordable housing project, despite the fact that affordable housing on the East End mainly services the middle to lower classes. We are not talking about Section-8 or migrant-worker housing on the East End.

So we applaud Southampton Town for thinking twice about this so-called solution proffered by our lawmakers in upstate New York. Keep writing your letters to the governor Supervisor Kabot, but more importantly start building on the properties you already have, properties donated to you. Give you’re the town housing authority the jurisdiction and financing it deserves. Time is running out.