Featured Story

Broker floats affordable rental project

ILLUSTRATION GETTY IMAGE/iStock | For many here, housing has become impossible
ILLUSTRATION GETTY IMAGE/iStock | For many here, housing has become impossible

An idea being shopped by a local real estate broker could be a step toward creating affordable housing on Shelter Island.

Janalyn Travis-Messer outlined a proposal to the Community Housing Board at the end of March for constructing a two-unit structure — one three-bedroom unit and an attached one-bedroom unit that could provide affordable living spaces.

Just what the rental cost would be remains unclear, but Ms. Travis- Messer said it has to cover costs.

Depending on the size and condition of apartments, figures cover a wide range, generally starting at about $1,500 per month, but with a very large unit that would house several people, figures could go as high as $4,000, Ms. Travis-Messer said.

That may seem high, but the broker said it would be a rental likely shared by several tenants. Ms. Travis-Messer and Angelo Piccozzi of Dering Harbor Real Estate have both said they’ve had to turn away many people seeking spaces who could pay those rents, but there hasn’t been a stock of units available.

The two units Ms. Travis-Messer is proposing would be attached, but have a fire wall between them. There would be a full basement and facilities for a washer and dryer.

The prefabricated duplex unit would be attractive, energy efficient and meet all safety and basic building codes, she added. The units fit within “the floating zone” for rental units created by the law that established the Community Housing Board.

“It will be lovely,” Ms. Travis-Messer said of the project that would be built under the DJTM Enterprises section of her business, and the structure would blend in with housing where it would be constructed.

The location of the initial structure isn’t being made public yet, but would be subject to approvals from the Suffolk County Department of Health Services and, if proven to be viable, could be the first of several units developed on what the broker described as “marginal” lots that, for one reason or another, wouldn’t be considered by those seeking ideal upscale housing locations.

Before it could be approved, the Town Board and Planning Boards would have to act.

Members of the Community Housing Board and the Shelter Island Housing Options (SIHOP) group aren’t endorsing any plan, but are listening to Ms. Travis-Messer, considering whether the project could become a prototype for year-round rentals. Some could be new units and others created within existing houses for landlords to rent out.

The role the SIHOP could play, since it can raise money and provide tax deductions to donors, could be to provide money to people who would like to create rental spaces in their houses, but need to bring them up to code.
Kimberlea Rea, a member of SIHOP, said that the group is developing priorities to eventually make money available.

One project, for example, is a house where the owner needs a new septic system to qualify as a legal rental.

As for Ms. Travis-Messer’s proposal, she would need relief from some limitations on rental housing. The Board of Health restricts two units from both having cooking facilities. With the help of Building Permits Coordinator Mary Wilson, the broker is seeking approval from the county to allow the attached single-bedroom unit to have a cook top and microwave oven, sufficient to do some cooking, without having a full kitchen setup.

Ms. Travis-Messer would also need relief from the current requirement that a landlord live on the property where the rental unit exists. But that doesn’t mean there would be no oversight of the units. They would be checked to ensure safety and building standards are maintained.

An efficiency unit could have one or two tenants depending on its size. Up to three people could occupy a one-bedroom unit; four to five people could be housed in a two bedroom unit; and up to six in a three-bedroom unit.

Those who are licensed to offer rentals may do so for five years, according to the town’s regulations on affordable housing, and then would have to renew their licenses to continue to rent affordables. Should a tenant under the affordable limits move and no other tenant needs an affordable rental, the property owner would be allowed to rent on the open market for up to a year. But in no case, could that space be offered as a vacation rental.

If the property is sold, the affordable designation would continue under the new owner.

Who would be eligible for this kind of housing?

The Community Housing Board is authorized to maintain a list of possible tenants. Because there have been no available rentals, that list has been inactive, but would be recreated, according to Mary-Faith Westervelt, co-chair of the Community Housing Board.

Applicants must be United States citizens or legal residents and be income eligible. To give preference to town residents, the board would award affordables:
• First to those who work and live on the Island and have done so for at least a year
• Second, to those who live or work on the Island and have done so for at least a year
• To those who previously lived on Shelter Island for at least a year and want to return

If there are still existing units after that, other income eligible individual or families could apply. Should there ever be a tie after criteria are met, the units would be awarded through a lottery system.

Previous efforts to create multi-unit affordables have died before they could get off the ground with neighbors protesting. But the possibility of small units in different parts of the Islands could be the solution, Ms. Westervelt said.

“We knew we really couldn’t do developments,” Ms. Westervelt said, about larger housing units. “If this can’t go through, nothing is going to go through.”