Southold Town Board eyes need for housing office

by Jane Ahrens

“Ms. Doherty also hopes to host public sessions at the Peconic Recreation Center, Floyd Memorial Library in Greenport and on Fishers Island.” 

05.25.2023 NEWS
By Melissa Azofeifa and Nicholas Grasso

The Southold Town Board is considering creating a housing department as part of a draft community housing plan being developed by the town’s Community Housing Fund Advisory Board.

The draft plan, dated April 21, was discussed at Tuesday’s Town Board work session. It outlines departmental responsibilities, which include maintaining housing registry lists, code compliance, overseeing application processes and managing the eligible person selection process.

“The [Advisory] Board felt that in order for this [draft community housing] plan to be implemented there should be a housing department,” Councilwoman Jill Doherty said in a telephone interview.

The 81-page draft was created by the Southold Community Housing Fund Advisory Board. That group includes real estate and construction professionals, local business owners, bankers, town employees and representatives of nonprofits as well as a consultant from Nelson, Pope and Voorhis, LLC. 

The creation of this plan comes after four of the five East End towns’ voters approved a new 0.5% real estate transfer fee to fund East End housing solutions as part of the Peconic Bay Region Community Housing Act. The transfer fee, which doesn’t affect residents’ property taxes, could bring in more than $1 million per year for community housing in Southold Town, according to the advisory board. 

The town has begun collecting the funds, but that money can’t be spent until the Town Board holds a required public hearing and approves a final plan for how it will be used.

Some of the advisory board’s recommendations for using that money include funding low-interest loans for the construction of both community housing and new accessory dwelling units. The board also suggests maintenance grants to help support existing community housing. 

In addition, it’s hoped that home ownership opportunities can be increased for eligible first-time homebuyers through a low-interest loan program and through a Hero Interest-free Loan program that specifically serves veterans and active military service members, health care workers and emergency service professionals. 

At Tuesday’s Town Board meeting, members took several steps aimed at solving local housing challenges, including petitioning to increase the State of New York Mortgage Agency purchase price limit, which is among the housing plan’s recommendations. 

During the meeting, the board authorized Mr. Russell to send a letter to the New York State Legislature requesting the exemption threshold be increased to 100% of SONYMA’s purchase price limit.

“Now that real estate has drastically changed and things are very pricey, the [existing limit] doesn’t work anymore,” Ms. Doherty said following the meeting. “That’s why we want to do 100%. We have to change our town code and we have to ask the [state] Assembly to do a bill on that.”

The board also took steps Tuesday to amend town code regarding accessory dwelling units, specifically changing the square footage requirements for ADUs. The code previously required a minimum of 450 square feet for two-bedroom, one-bathroom ADUs. That minimum has been reduced to 220 square feet.

While the community housing plan recommends simplifying the current code, which it describes as “cumbersome,” and offering loans to construct new accessory dwelling units for community housing, Supervisor Scott Russell explained that the new measure focuses on utilizing existing structures to increase housing at all price points within the town.

“Accessory apartments are good because, first, they increase the inventory,” Mr. Russell said. “The idea is to get as many out there as possible. One of the problems Southold has isn’t just affordable housing, it’s ‘housing’ housing.”

He also added that these accessory dwelling units could allow seniors — who made up 42.6% of the total year-round population in 2021 according to the community housing plan — to tap into a source of income and “age in place.”

Ms. Doherty, said she hopes to have public information meetings on the community housing plan draft in the coming weeks.

“We’re working toward dates in June to hold informational meetings. One [meeting is] going to be at Mattituck-Laurel Library on June 27. I hope to do one at CAST, which will also be Spanish speaking,” she said, referring to the Center for Advocacy, Support and Transformation in Southold. 

Ms. Doherty also hopes to host public sessions at the Peconic Recreation Center, Floyd Memorial Library in Greenport and on Fishers Island. 

The purpose of each session is to gather and incorporate public feedback into the plan before the Town Board votes to potentially add it to the town’s 2020 comprehensive plan. The Village of Greenport will also be use the plan through an intermunicipal agreement, according to the draft.

During the board’s work session Tuesday, Ms. Doherty said she hopes a public hearing on the plan can take place July 18.

Even after public feedback is considered and, presuming the plan is ultimately adopted, Mr. Russell said the Town Board must still answer one question: “What do we start with first?”

“We need to establish clear priorities,” he explained. “The plan that’s there is great. But it’s ideas [and] generalities … are great, but you need a strategic plan that identifies specific priorities.”

Once a strategy is adopted and the town begins implementing recommendations,the plan, much like the real estate market, could change.

Ms. Doherty said the plan remains malleable. 

“Nothing’s a perfect plan, it’s always going to be a living document,” she said in a telephone interview. “As we implement it, we’ll find out what needs to be changed, what works, what doesn’t.” 

For more information, the full presentation of the plan is available on the town website along with the current draft of the community housing plan.

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USCG Eagle passing the Race early morning March 18, 2023 on her return from the Chesapeake Bay. Photo Credit Marlin Bloethe

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