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Housing Board reinvigorated for affordable solutions


The Community Housing Board (CHB) wants a meeting with the Town Board to discuss goals and concrete measures of support it says is needed to provide affordable living quarters on the Island.

“Unless you have political will, nothing will happen,” said  Chairwoman Mary-Faith Westervelt at the meeting March 22 of CHB, quoting former Councilwoman Chris Lewis on the issue.

“I’m kind of pushy — I like to get things done,” said Gerry Siller, one of the new members of the Housing Board and a former Shelter Island Town supervisor.

He agreed to draft an agenda for a meeting with the Town Board.

Deputy Supervisor Amber Brach-Williams and Councilman Albert Dickson assured CHB members that this Town Board is committed to the goal of making reasonably priced housing available on the Island.

Ms. Brach-Williams said the Town Board has at least two members who don’t plan to seek re-election at the end of their terms and are committed to seeing action without concern for their political futures.

One idea discussed at the meeting was the CHB recommending that the Town Board float a bond to acquire sites for rental housing.

While the CHB has been in existence a dozen years, little has been done aside from the six houses built on Bowditch Road in the mid-1990s that are occupied by original residents who purchased them, and a few individual homeowners licensed to provide rental spaces on their properties.

Ms. Westervelt and Mike Bebon have been with the CHB from its inception, meeting with community resistance and little satisfaction. Both expressed a new confidence that the time is right to get efforts for affordable housing moving.

Mr. Bebon produced a report on hurdles the committee has experienced through the years and housing problems that could be solved with the will to do so. The third part of his report dealt with action steps to achieving goals.

Among them are taking steps to:

• Quantify needs, not by having potential renters produce financial or other personal information, but simply indicating an interest in trying to qualify for housing.

• Explore financing options, including reinvigorating the Shelter Island Housing Options group that can raise funds while providing tax deductions to contributors and also looking at new legislation that could provide help with down payments on house purchases.

• Open up the Near Shore Overlay District to possible community housing. It was restricted because of environmental concerns. The district covers all shore area starting in the Village of Dering Harbor and following the shoreline from Cobbetts Lane and along Winthrop Road.

• Identify land that could be purchased for new structures and possible bonds to acquire the properties.

• Develop a means that could include Suffolk County Water Authority serving some sites and possible small multiple unit septic systems to serve several houses.

New CHB member Chris DiOrio, describing himself as a farmer who grew up on the Island and has returned to farm here, talked about incorporating a community land trust (CLT) concept for new houses where those who qualified would own the house, but not the land on which it stands. The land would belong to the CLT. Those who purchased the houses could make improvements to them that are included in a future sale price, but the houses would have to be sold to someone else qualifying for a CLT house, or the CLT would sell it to someone qualified to buy it.

Attorney Patricia Quigley is leading the effort to reinvigorate the Shelter Island Housing Options group by contacting former members. She’s interested in hearing from others who want to participate in the community service by joining the group.

Ms. Quigley is listed in the Shelter Island phone book.

Among the designs the CHB is thinking about for new structures could be a large unit that looks from the outside like a single family house, but provides for several rental apartments.

A public relations effort is also being developed to make residents aware of who needs the housing.

Many are students who grew up here, went away to college and want to return, but can’t unless they move back in with their parents. Others are workers on the Island — teachers, ferry service staff and others who are employed by local businesses.

The CHB has a priority list that would give credit toward qualifying to people who live and work here, but don’t have sufficient living quarters; people who work here but can’t afford to live here such as teachers who are forced to commute from less expensive areas; and people who join the Fire Department or are Emergency Medical Service volunteers.

Their will continue to be an effort to open up more individual apartments in existing structures where the CHB can waive some zoning restrictions that would apply to other housing.

The next scheduled meeting of the CHB is April 26 session.