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Jan 5, 2010 4:55 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Small-scale affordable housing depends on town's management strategies

Jan 5, 2010 4:55 PM

Suffolk County’s nearly 10-year-old program to give properties seized for non-payment of taxes to East End towns for affordable housing programs has faced numerous setbacks in Southampton Town in the past year, but most people familiar with the program believe that the town’s initial plan to rent the properties instead of selling them was the primary sticking point.

The issue came to a head in late September when Southampton Town Housing Authority officials walked out of an East Quogue Civic Association meeting in frustration when there was an outcry over a proposal to build two affordable rental houses on a one-acre lot on Jones Road in East Quogue.

“The neighborhood was so up in arms about that being a rental. We said ‘How is home ownership to you?’ That was okay to them,” said Southampton Town Supervisor-elect Anna Throne-Holst. “We have a dual responsibility here. One is certainly to make sure that we develop and maintain a viable stock of affordable housing. It’s also contingent on us to do that in what I call a hamlet sensitive way.”

The Suffolk County 72H Land Transfer Program was enacted in 2000, and since that time the county has given about 500 properties to towns throughout the county. Southampton Town received 54 properties, which were seized after three-and-a-half years of property tax delinquency, and East Hampton has received 11. The county pays local governments the tax obligations of homeowners who do not pay their local taxes on time, and then attempts to collect the money, with interest and penalties, from the homeowners, before seizing the properties. Many of the properties are vacant land, and many more are small, unbuildable lots, which the town is allowed to use to transfer development rights to increase density on the lots that can be built on.

“There’s been some dissention. We’ve had conversations with the supervisor-elect as to how to utilize them,” said Suffolk County Director of Affordable Housing Jill Rosen-Nikeloff Thompson. “It comes up from time to time. People have misconceptions about affordable housing and who we’re trying to target. It generally has a positive effect on the community.”

Ms. Thompson added that most of the dissention about 72H properties has come when towns have tried to rent the properties instead of selling them.

“There’s a connotation that renters will not take care of the properties, but there’s a desperate need here for young people to have rentals. They will be monitored by the town. It’s a very sensitive local issue that has to be dealt with.”

Ms. Throne-Holst said that many of the 11 properties in Flanders that had been slated for affordable rentals were stymied, not just because the town would have acted as a landlord, but because many neighbors of the properties on Flanders Road, Oak Avenue, Flanders Boulevard, Maple Avenue and Oak Street believe that their neighborhood is already affordable without town-owned housing. She said that the addition of new houses in an area that already has many dilapidated houses might not be the best planning strategy.

“What they needed was dollars to rehab and buy out foreclosure properties that were blighting the neighborhood,” she said. “We listened to that and went ahead and applied for a grant that does exactly that, that allows towns to rehab and purchase houses that are in foreclosure.”

Ms. Throne-Holst said that it is still unclear what will happen to the 11 properties in Flanders that were given to the town.

“We are supposed to turn them back over to the county. I think they wouldn’t push that at this point,” she said. “They’re trying to figure out what to do with them themselves.”

Ms. Thompson said that the county would likely attempt to sell the properties at auction if they are not used for affordable housing.

The county has seized far fewer East Hampton properties, but East Hampton Director of Housing and Community Development Tom Ruhle said that the town has had little trouble with the roughly 10 houses that it has built and sold on 72H properties since the program began. All of the town’s rental housing has been in apartment complexes. Mr. Ruhle said that many of the properties given to the town by Suffolk County were actually parts of urban renewal lots, and that the town had had to purchase land next door in order to build the houses.

“All of our 72H properties in East Hampton have been home ownership. All the properties we’ve done have been for resale. That’s a little different from what Southampton is proposing,” he said. “We haven’t tried to do rentals of single family homes. It’s substantially harder to be a landlord than to sell a house that you make them responsible for. There’s a pressing need for ownership opportuities so we went that route.”

“I’m hoping it goes on forever,” he said of the county program.

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Anna, instead of caving to the loonies and "hamlet sensitivity" explain to these people what affordable housing really means to a community. Explain to them that affordable housing is not for "illegals" and indigents, but neighbors who live and work and contribute in our communities and that affordable housing has been shown to have no negative impact on property values. In fact, just the opposite is true. Enough of letting the loudest and most ignorant determine policy. We need affordable ...more
By peoplefirst (787), Southampton on Jan 5, 10 7:14 PM
To back up my assertion re: affordable housing and property values, read what the National Assoc. of Realtors has to say here http://www.realtor.org/library/library/fg504 Not exactly a left-wing, liberal organization
By peoplefirst (787), Southampton on Jan 5, 10 7:21 PM
The Flanders people are right - they already are afordable. I bet a survey of Section 8 houses in the Town would reveal that almost all of them are in affordable neighborhoods. Some Section 8 properties are well maintained by their owners - and a significant number aren't. Would the Town be a good landlord? Their own Housing people cannot properly administer the Section 8 program, let alone another program.
Ownership is preferred, not rentals by absentee landlords.
By diogenes (57), westhampton on Jan 6, 10 11:21 AM