City rethinking ways to incentivize apartments

As part of an effort to create more affordable housing, the director of East Hampton Town’s planning department issued a series of recommendations to city council on Tuesday aimed at expanding incentives for residents to offer affordable secondary suites. For rent.

Affordable detached accessory structures were introduced into city code in 2016, allowing such housing on lots of at least 40,000 square feet. This requirement was later reduced to 30,000 square feet, increasing the pool of eligible properties and, it was hoped, encouraging more owners to participate. Affordable attached secondary suites are permitted in a residence on parcels of at least 20,000 square feet.

The maximum monthly rent charged for these units cannot exceed the standards set out in the code, currently 110% of Fair Market Rent for existing units, as defined by the Nassau-Suffolk Metro Fair Market Housing Area of ​​the Federal Ministry of Housing and Urban Development. That figure is now $1,865.

The 2016 amendment to the city code allowed a maximum of 20 such units in each school district, 100 in total. But aside from those looking to house a family member, very few have taken advantage of it: to date, there are only 43 such units, and only East Hampton has reached its limit of 20. Fifteen are in Springs. , six in Montauk and two in Amagansett. . Wainscott has no such units.

“We hadn’t set the dials correctly,” said Jeremy Samuelson, the planning manager, “so more than half of the units sat unused. The current program works for family members, but we know the need is much greater.

Mr. Samuelson recited now-familiar statistics about the scarcity of affordable housing in the city. Of some 600 new homes built between 2010 and 2020, around 60% are used seasonally. Less than 3% of the city’s housing stock is deemed affordable, and a quarter of the city’s households have “serious housing problems”, defined as spending 50% or more of their income on housing. A third of mortgage holders and 70% of renters spend more than 35% of their income on housing. There are fewer young adults and families as a percentage of the city’s population, which is older than New York State and national averages.

Revenue opportunities, the annual application and renewal process, and program and code requirements have proven barriers to the program, Samuelson told the board. “A general observation is that numbers don’t work for a landlord,” he said. Landlords “do not have enough incentive to follow this programme”, citing the cost of building an apartment compared to the return in the form of rental income, which is capped. He proposed increasing the maximum allowable rent from 110% to 130% of fair market rent, which would bring the maximum monthly rent to $2,204.

Samuelson proposed increasing the limit of units per school district from 20 to 40 and further reducing the minimum lot size for properties with detached accessory units to half an acre. He also proposed an increase in the number of bedrooms allowed from one to two, an increase in the maximum size of individual apartments from 600 to 900 square feet, and the possibility for adjoining apartments to take up up to 50% of the floor area. gross of the main dwelling.

He suggested eliminating existing restrictions on such housing in the Harbor Protection Overlay and Affordable Housing Overlay Districts, simplifying the process by which a landlord can live in an accessory unit and rent the main unit as an affordable residence, and eliminate a year-round occupancy requirement. for both tenant and landlord, which he acknowledged would be “a pretty big change.”

In an aging population in particular, many can afford to spend the winter months elsewhere, for example. “They wouldn’t be eligible at this point,” he said. “If they went on an extended vacation, they would be breaking the code as it is written now.”

As an example of a tenant who would benefit from the elimination of the year-round residency requirement, he described a seasonal worker, a chef who arrives at the end of March and leaves in November. “He’s technically not eligible for hire, but he’s been here for 20 years.” The main priority, he said, should be rental units that can be certified as affordable, not whether a tenant is in town in January and February.

The current limit of two people per affordable unit should be reconsidered, he said. Under the current code, if a couple has a child, it makes them homeless, he said. The annual renewal process for those offering affordable secondary suites should also be streamlined, he said. Currently, an application must be completed in full every year, even for renewals.

Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said he knew firsthand that “many of these proposed changes will be welcome. . . . All of these are ways to overcome these obstacles.

The discussion will continue, he said, eventually leading to a public hearing on proposed changes to the code.