Featured Story

Community Housing Board seeks to link need with action

ELANOR P. LABROZZI PHOTO A view of the Community Housing Board forum at Town Hall Monday evening.
ELANOR P. LABROZZI PHOTO A view of the Community Housing Board forum at Town Hall Monday evening.

Judging from the turnout at Monday night’s Community Housing Board forum, many employers and leaders of volunteer services see the need for rental units as do residents and would-be residents of Shelter Island.

So why isn’t it a priority for the Town Board?

“We just haven’t been able to light their fire,” said Community Housing Board Co-chairwoman Mary-Faith Westervelt.

She described it as a “chicken and egg thing” where people in need of housing don’t register their interest because they’re told there’s nothing available and no one is willing to put up funds to create housing when they can’t quantify the need.

Councilman Jim Colligan said rental housing has to become a major issue for the town.

At the suggestion of North Ferry General Manager Bridg Hunt, future forums will be videotaped so the passion that employers and residents have for the subject can be brought home to Town Board members better than verbal reports.

Councilwoman Chris Lewis, liaison to the Community Housing Board, dared speak words that she said have been forbidden on the Island, suggesting that one hurdle to building affordable housing — a reliable source of water — might have to be conquered by bringing in the Suffolk County Water Authority.

Ms. Lewis recently visited what she termed a successful affordable housing project in East Hampton, and said a town official told her that all that’s needed to achieve community housing is “political will” and the cooperation of the business community.

Both she and Ms. Westervelt noted that whenever a community housing project is identified, residents agree it’s a wonderful idea, but petitions to stop it from happening in their neighborhoods spring up almost immediately.

One such project was halted when a would-be developer backed off because of the opposition, Ms. Westervelt said. A more recent plan, opposed by some neighbors, was rejected by the Town Board out of concern that it would be too dense for the lot and could pose issues of traffic and parking, she said.

To push forward with community housing, the Town Board needs both a list of registrants who have need for housing and taxpayers’ willingness to pay to build units, Ms. Lewis said.

Former CHB member Lance Willumsen challenged his former colleagues to “think outside of the box” and warned that if the town continues to focus on protecting open space, it could face a time when there are no sites for rental housing.