In this wealthy community of lavish parties, high profile people, over-sized houses, and over-priced almost everything else, it’s encouraging to learn about another affordable housing complex being built.
By November 2012, St. Michaels Housing complex in Amagansett, a 40 unit affordable housing project, paid for with HUD funds and property sold by Amagansett’s St. Michaels Lutheran Church (at way below market value), will be up and running.
When I passed St. Michaels church and the neighboring construction site, I noticed how practical the site was: a clinic and gym will be within walking distance; as will the grocery across the street, and the small Amagansett post office. A crosswalk, newly completed on 27, will enable the residents to get from the complex to the other side of the road without risking life and limb.
I wanted to know who qualified, how it came about, who was responsible. So I called St. Michaels pastor, Katrina Foster, who agreed to meet with me and give me the facts.
“How will I know you?” I asked when we set a date and place.
“I’ll look like a pastor” she said, but when she came in the door to the restaurant she looked only young. And happy. She and her very pretty nine-year old daughter Zoia sat down to talk with me. Her daughter immediately pulled out a book and I imagined Zoia was used to her mother giving up her time for other people.
“A single person,” Pastor Foster said, “who can make no more than $36,000, qualifies; $46,000 for a couple. They pay 30 percent of their income for the yearly rental. If they have medical expenses, the 30 percent they pay is after medical expenses are deducted. There’s a lottery of 100 people and we draw 40 people from the lottery based on, one, the homeless (and that constitutes anyone living on someone’s couch or in their car; it really MEANS homeless), two, disabled people and, three, people with the lowest income.
“The minimum age is 62,” she continued. “The 40 people can be from anywhere — from Alaska or anywhere and they don’t have to belong to our church or any church. They don’t have to meet all three criteria, but highest priority is given to homeless first, then disabled and lowest income. An able-bodied person or couple who have a home and are not disabled and who fall within the income guidelines will qualify, but priority is given to those most vulnerable. There’ll be a superintendent at the complex and we’ll also have a 3500 square foot community center for not only the residents but the whole community.”
“All of this,” she said “is for people who have given to their communities as fishermen or teachers, service people; anyone not in a position to stay because they’re unable to find affordable housing. Now St. Michaels will be able to provide such a place, as Whalebone and Windmill Villages One and Two already do.”
“Under the radar,” she said, “is a whole way of life in which people look out for other people. For people who are old, infirm, and without means. It has to do with what it means to live a religious life; it’s a culture of generosity. People donate money or their time; they volunteer to make meals. St. Michaels sold five acres of its land at way below fair market value for this project.”
She told me that Michael de Sario (president of the housing board that secured funding) and Gerry Mooney (a member of St. Michaels and manager of the other existing affordable housing complexes) kept the project going for the ten years it took. But this involved lots and lots of people who never gave up.
“None of us ever gave up and sometimes it was rough going.”
Then she asked if I knew the parable of The Insistent Widow. When it was clear I didn’t, she explained that it involved a judge and a widow in the same town.
“The widow went to the judge asking for justice and help but the judge refused her,” the pastor said. “The widow went back day after day after day. She never gave up. Finally the judge gave in. That’s what we do. We never give up. We just keep working until things get done.”
Before coming here, Pastor Foster was pastor in the Bronx for 16 years where she earned the Bronx Borough President’s Citation of Merit in 2000 and 2004, and was awarded the NAACP’s Women Who Make a Difference Award in 2001. She began serving Incarnation and St. Michaels Lutheran churches in the Hamptons Lutheran Parish on the East End in 2010 when she was told there was a spot in Amagansett where she could be useful.
“I’m here with my wife and our daughter and an array of animals,” she said.
“What do you do when you’re not serving your congregation and everyone who needs help?” I ask…. “IF and WHEN you ever have free time?”
“We go to the beach” she says. “Zoia loves the beach. All three of us, and one dog, love the beach.”