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Practical steps taken toward affordable rentals


The Community Housing Board (CHB) will ask the Town Board in October for a substantially larger budget to continue its efforts to provide rental apartments on Shelter Island.

Board members expect to request a $25,000 budget, up from $3,844 in the current year. That’s because the CHB has been expanded and re-committed in recent months, members have said, and more money is needed for consulting and other fees.

Thanks to efforts undertaken by board members, the CHB has some schematics in hand that show possible layouts for rental properties.

Mike Bebon told his colleagues at an August 23 meeting that he’s seen modular units on the South Fork that could work here, including a property that from the outside appears to be a single large house, but the inside has four one-bedroom apartments, two on each floor. He has also seen a similar house with wings at each end that would create two more one-bedroom apartments.

Mr. Bebon estimated an initial project could be done for about $770,000, excluding site costs. With Housing and Urban Development (HUD) rental fees, it could be a formula for the Island’s housing needs.

He said he learned that modular housing is the only reasonable method to keep rentals affordable within guidelines set by HUD for Suffolk County.

“It’s not big, but it’s not tiny either,” Mr. Bebon said about the units he’s seen, describing them as “attractive” and something that would fit with the ambiance on Shelter Island.

Board members seemed to lean toward starting with one 4-unit property, or perhaps one with an attached two-story town house, but that’s still in the talking stage.

There’s also a need to explore water and septic requirements, with Mr. Bebon noting that there’s not a lot of room to negotiate with the Suffolk County Department of Health Services when it comes to those requirements.

Having looked closely at what neighboring communities are doing, the CHB hopes to schedule a forum in late September or October with contractors on the Island who have an interest in building community housing. Mr. Bebon has a list of about six contractors he’d identified, and others were added to that list by CHB members. The plan is to get the word out to those who may not be on the list, but would like to hear about the CHB’s aims and contribute some knowledge on what could work on the Island.

Committee members hope to find land already owned by the town, but that is not restricted from building. That means no Community Preservation Funds would have to be applied to the land purchase, since CPF money can only be used to preserve open spaces and assist water quality improvement projects.

Chris DiOrio has been exploring sites already owned by the town as well as looking at places that could be purchased at reasonable costs. Ed Katta told his colleagues he’s been exploring possible grant sources, and there could also be tax abatements that might be applied to community housing.

Speaking with town grant consultant Jennifer Mesiano Higham, Mr. Katta said he learned there wouldn’t be grant money available for land purchase. But the board is exploring all options, including the possibility that there might be gifts of land.

The Shelter Island Housing Options Group is a 501C(3) entity that could provide tax deductions for gifts of property or monetary contributions.

Abby Dressis is working on a marketing strategy that includes a brochure the CHB hopes will produce a greater understanding of the need for community housing and outline steps to get from planning to construction of units.

The Board meets next on September 27. When a date for the open forum with contractors is set, the Reporter will publish the details.