With the arrival of summer here, everything bureaucratic moves a little more slowly, as local governments deal with the pressing issues of high season – traffic, noise, events and the inevitable increase in demand for public safety and emergency response when our population swells thanks to our beach access.
But just across the next summer season is a mad dash towards Election Day, when voters will make their voices heard on a measure that could dramatically change the fabric of our community for years to come.
The towns of Southampton, East Hampton and Shelter Island are all set to hold a referendum on a proposed new community housing fund .5% property transfer tax on the November 8 ballot, while the towns of Southold and Riverhead could wait until 2023 or, in the case of Riverhead, possibly forgo that opportunity (see article on page 1).
Each of the five cities in the East End faces unique housing challenges, which is why it’s so important that each of these funds is tailored to the needs of the community it’s meant to serve. This is why the State Enabling Act was developed to require each city to develop its own plan.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen some concern from city leaders about the changes to the Community Preservation Fund’s Land Preservation Program occurring at the same time as the new program. In the cities of Southampton, East Hampton and Shelter Island, the first $250,000 of a home purchase is currently exempt from the 2% CPF real estate transfer tax, which is paid by home buyers. This amount will be increased this year to $400,000, whether or not cities commit to the new community housing fund program. Similarly, in Riverhead and Southold, the exemption will increase from $150,000 to $200,000.
When Riverhead City Council last discussed the housing fund program in late March, it asked for more information about the negative impact of the exemption increase on Riverhead’s CPF fund. But this issue is somewhat moot – the increase in the CPF exemption is unrelated to the November vote. And a $50,000 increase in the exemption would mean people struggling to afford a first home would have to find $1,000 less at closing, a benefit to the community as a whole that’s offset by transfer duties paid by people buying at the top of the range. of the market.
Indeed, some of the strangest opposition we’ve heard has come from upscale parts of the market – according to Southold Councilor Louisa Evans, residents of Fishers Island – an enclave home to many exclusive estates – want to opt out of the referendum. because they believe there is nothing for them.
Southold Town really isn’t far behind South Fork in the face of soaring property prices and the inevitable commercial parade of workers heading east on narrow highways each morning to get to work. “Commercial Parade” is really a misnomer at this point, anyway. For years, it’s not just tradespeople who have made this journey every day. Lately, on both forks, this ride is being done by people doing just about any kind of work that can’t be done from home.
We’ve been hearing for years about the need for volunteer firefighters, paramedics, teachers and nurses in the East End, and how the lack of housing for people starting out in their careers has drained the community people who perform these essential functions. . While all of this is true, the reality is much starker. Area median incomes, which are used to calculate eligibility for affordable housing, are now above six figures here. It was telling to hear Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman discuss recently his own struggle to find accommodation he could afford on a town supervisor’s salary when he was a town supervisor. town of East Hampton 20 years ago. And things did not improve. When our municipal leaders cannot afford to live here, something is truly broken.
We’ve heard a lot of great and innovative suggestions for community housing as cities have started developing their housing plans over the past few weeks, and one of the things that’s really great about them is that they’re designed to meet community needs. they serve, to allow homeowners to sell “affordability easements” on their properties in East Hampton – allowing them to stay in their home while enjoying the equity and ensuring it remains affordable when they sell, to partner with Habitat for Humanity in Riverhead to rehabilitate vacant homes downtown. Southampton even appears to be turning to the idea of multi-family housing, a major shift in mindset for a community that has long had a ghost inventory of illegal affordable apartments. The crisis has reached a point where there is little stigma left for building such apartments to provide homes for our parents, children and neighbors, all of whom have been affected by the lack of housing here. It’s high time we found a way to make these apartments legal and safe, without penalizing people who try to do the right thing, even if it means breaking current laws. It’s time for all that to change.