High school teacher Peter Miedema brought his senior class in government Tuesday to attend the Town Board’s work session. At the end of the meeting, when residents can address the board on any topic, three students, Julia Labrozzi, Olivia Yeaman and Nicolette Frasco eloquently explained their concerns that in the near future there’s the possibility there will be no place for them on the Island.
Poised and confident, Ms. Labrozi explained that in their class they have been following the issue of the lack of affordable hosing on the Island. A group of her classmates, Ms. Labrozzi said, are concerned about being able to live here after they’ve completed their educations.
She noted that young people are vital to the Island on many levels, including staffing the volunteer Emergency Medical Services and the Fire Department. “I don’t think Shelter Island can grow and prosper” without young families living here full-time, Ms. Labrozzi said. “If there aren’t people who are willing to give their service, then what’s going to happen to the community?”
The student said she was aware that second homeowners contribute greatly to the economy, but houses are not affordable to the “middle and working classes.” She also saw a day approaching when the school would close because “no one can afford to live here with their children.”
Supervisor Jim Dougherty said Ms. Labrozzi “put your finger on a terribly important issue.” He noted that the town passed the Community Housing Law in 2008, “relaxing some zoning and density requirements” to construct affordable housing, but it “became kind of a dud of a law.” However, the board is continuing to find ways to “do more,” he added.
Ms. Frasco noted that in the mid-1990s six affordable houses were built on Bowditch Road and made available through a lottery for those who qualified, based on their incomes and ability to pay what would be mortgages averaging $65,000.
Ms. Frasco said that was “an affordable housing plan that hasn’t been replicated since” and re-instituting it “would be an effective answer to the current affordable housing issue.”
Mr. Dougherty said the town is looking for opportunities, but in the 1990s land values “were somewhat sane,” while today real estate prices have skyrocketed.
“Sympathy doesn’t pay the bills,” Councilman Paul Shepherd told the students. “Ultimately it’s about money. Never forget that.”
He spoke of market forces, the dwindling availability of land, either bought to build on or the town purchasing open space to preserve.
“People who move out here have more money that you probably will ever have when you get out of college,” Mr. Shepherd said.
Another issue keeping affordable housing as a dead issue is NIMByism, he said, adding that “people sing all day long of how they want it to happen but when the time comes for it to be next to their house” there will be resistance.
He told the students that he” didn’t want to burst any hope” they might have, “but it’s about money.”
Ms. Labrozzi said she realized that their hopes for the future are “easier said than done.”
“It won’t be done if it’s not said,” Ms. Shepherd replied.
Mr. Dougherty asked the students for their opinions on short-term rentals, an issue that will be aired at a public hearing on January 27.
“People making money quickly each weekend” might find it “more appealing than renting to a family for an entire year,” Ms. Frasco said, which in turn hurts the stability of a community.
Mr. Shepherd said, “You understand. It’s about money.”
In other business: Mr. Dougherty reported that financial numbers for December were down significantly compared to December 2015 (see below). Mr. Dougherty said, “As the chief financial officer of the town, if you want me to give the reasons why, I say, ‘I don’t know.’”
Responding to concerns by some residents that the price of leasing 37 slips at the town owned-dock at Congdons Creek had been raised from $250 annually to $500 to pay for extensive re-construction of the facility, Councilman Jim Colligan said the board was looking into offering a less steep increase to the six baymen who use the dock, as opposed to the recreational boaters.
TOWN FINANICAL REPORT
December 2016 — $46,900
December 2015 — $81,800
December 2016 — $5,800
December 2015 — $$7,200
Garbage Bag Sales
December 2016 — $5,400
December 2015 — $13,350
December 2016 — $16,200
December 2015 — $33,600