Shelter Island Reporter Editorial: Stay the course on affordables


Those in favor of a sensible plan to bring affordable housing — either for purchase or rent — to the Island have had a setback.

Neighbors near a plot on North Ferry Road have voiced strong opposition to a project first aired at the town’s Community Housing Board (CHB) late last month. Real estate broker Janalyn Travis-Messer suggested constructing a two-unit structure — one three-bedroom house with an attached one-bedroom unit — that could provide, it was said, affordable living spaces.

The prefabricated duplex unit was touted as attractive and energy efficient and fit within “the floating zone” for rental units created by the law that established the CHB. Rent for the larger space, Ms. Travis-Messer estimated, could go as high as $4,000 a month.

That number struck several people in the area as not in any way being “affordable,” but could only work if several breadwinners were living there. That in turn upset people with visions of multiple vehicles in a parking lot and overcrowded conditions.

It also spurred cases of language parsing, that the housing doesn’t have to be “affordable,” but merely “workforce” or  “community” housing.

In addition, voices were raised about the size of the proposed lot  as too small for the planned construction.

There’s no doubt NIMBYism played a part in the over-the-top outrage at the very idea of something new in the neighborhood, but those protesting the idea have raised legitimate questions and should be listened to. Trees would have to be cut down, they maintain, for the building and parking areas, and if several unrelated people are living in one small house, problems are inevitable on several fronts.

But if this particular project is unsuitable, that doesn’t mean affordable housing can’t work here. There will always be NIMBY people, but if the right place and circumstances are present their loud — often incoherent — objections can be overcome.

In Julie Lane’s story in the Reporter this week, one person admits that he’s not in favor of any affordable housing on the Island, noting that he was thrifty and saved his money to buy a house and got no break in the form of affordable housing.

We believe that’s an attitude the Island can’t seriously consider. If young people and working people can’t afford to live here then we are in danger of turning “our jewel of an Island into an elitist private club between two ferries,” as former Councilman Ed Brown warned as he was leaving office.

We need a mix of incomes, ages and professions here to retain the character of the Island we love and not see it become just another garden variety resort community.