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Community Housing Board processing the facts and figures

JULIE LANE PHOTO Community Housing Board Chairwoman Mary-Faith Westervelt.
JULIE LANE PHOTO Community Housing Board Chairwoman Mary-Faith Westervelt.

Members of the Community Housing Board (CHB) have been doing their homework, identifying possible sites for affordable — or community — housing, although they haven’t targeted any specific site for possible development.

Member Abby Dress released statistics at the May 31 meeting at Town Hall she’d received from town assessors showing there are 2,447 residences on the Island. The average value of those single family houses on Shelter Island is $1.4 million, Ms. Dress said. The median value is $930,000.

There are 499 parcels where acreage exceeds half an acre and four lots where Ms. Dress said there’s a single house, but enough land to accommodate construction of an accessory structure. She and other CHB members will be taking a closer look at some of the sites to determine if there are contractual agreements that might prohibit additional construction, she said.

If the committee can identify a specific property for sale, it can look at Shelter Island Housing Options (SIHOP) to help raise money for development. Once a project is identified, the CHB will coordinate with SIHOP, which is a nonprofit able to provide tax deductions to contributors.

Plans also call for working with Jennifer Mesiano Higham, the town’s consultant on grants. CHB member Ed Katta plans to look available grants from different levels of government. That includes a plan for loans based on a bill introduced by Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) that would create a revolving fund from which money could be borrowed to build affordable housing.

Mr. Thiele has expressed interest in a conference call or a meeting with CHB members to discuss details of the pending legislation, which he has described as “complex.”

In addition to raising money, SIHOP plans to conduct a survey to quantify the need for community housing, according to Hoot Sherman, a former town supervisor, CHB member and SIHOP member. Currently, those seeking affordable housing have had to register with the town, which some people are reluctant to do, concerned they would have to divulge too much personal information such as tax filings. SIHOP won’t require any such information in its survey.

“We know there’s a need out there,” CHB Chairwoman Mary-Faith Westervelt said. But another barrier to gathering information has been people who haven’t seen possibilities meeting their requirements, so they haven’t bothered to register.

Without identifying specific sites, members talked about situations where banks may be holding properties that could be sites for construction or structures that can be rehabilitated. There was a reference without a name to one property owner who has a number of unused properties, but members need to determine if that owner has any interest in making sites available.

Ms. Westervelt has been working with Town Attorney Bob DeStefano to tweak parts of the law that created the Community Housing Board years ago. Both described projected changes as relatively minor. Mr. DeStefano said a Town board public hearing would have to be convened before any changes could be made.

Mr. Sherman and CHB member Gerry Siller plan to visit community housing in East Hampton, something former councilwoman Chris Lewis did last year. Ms. Lewis described positive aspects of the housing there, noting that it had taken a partnership between the town — “the political will,” she said — and businesses to make affordable housing  a reality.

The CHB also discussed the possibility of finding an informal way to set up “a matching site” where those with year-round apartments to rent would list them and those looking for such spaces could make their own arrangements with landlords.