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Year in Review: Expect boost for affordable housing in ’18


Perhaps there’s no other major effort on Shelter Island that has been less predictable than whether affordable housing will gain a foothold.

Past efforts hit roadblocks for members of the Community Housing Board (CHB), but this year began with renewed energy and hope that the reconstituted board would see progress.

A need for affordable housing was expressed at a Town Hall forum where fire, police and ambulance service representatives spoke about the importance of providing reasonably priced housing to retain these volunteer units. They were joined by representatives of a number of businesses who echoed the importance of housing for employees.

Also during 2017, real estate professional Janalyn Travis-Messer proposed a two-unit building providing one family-sized apartment and one small apartment for a single person or couple in the area of North Ferry and Hedges roads.

Neighbors were quick to protest, insisting the density would be too great and traffic in and out of Hedges Road too difficult if the structure were built. The Town Board turned down the proposal agreeing with the neighbors

Undeterred, members of the CHB continued their mission, reiterating that they weren’t trying to establish low income housing on the Island, but were seeking housing for employees who couldn’t afford traditional mortgages or rents and weren’t qualified for subsidies.

Councilwoman Chris Lewis spent a day with East Hampton officials visiting affordable housing that town developed. The units were attractive and met a need, she told CHB members.

Ms. Lewis said, more than once, that all affordable housing needed to become a fact was “political will.”

The CHB set its sights on some other parcels that might work, but the owner of one wouldn’t negotiate a price for purchase that would be reasonable, Ms. Lewis said. The search for others continues, but there’s not a single project in the pipeline.

Still, Ms. Lewis, who retires from the Town Board at the end of this month, predicts there may be “a new dawn” for affordables. With a new supervisor taking the helm in January, she thinks there will be a stronger commitment on the part of board members to dedicate themselves to moving forward on the issue.

“We’re very optimistic,” CHB Co-Chair Mary-Faith Westervelt said.

The newly constituted Town Board is ready to increase the membership of the CHB from five to seven to give strength to the development of affordable housing, Ms. Westervelt said.

“We are more than onboard” with enlarging the CHB to seven members to bring more expertise and diversity to the table, Supervisor-Elect Gary Gerth said. He agreed with the need when Councilman Jim Colligan first suggested it and believes the larger board will “bring a breath of fresh air” to the subject.