Shelter Island Reporter Editorial: Housing start

Community Housing Board Chairwoman Mary-Faith Westervelt

The Democrats were first out of the gate for the 2019 election, naming former Supervisor Gerry Siller as the party’s challenger to incumbent Republican Gary Gerth, and Michael Bebon for a Town Board seat. Councilman Jim Colligan will also run for another term on the Democratic line.

With Mr. Gerth running alongside Republican incumbent Councilman Paul Shepherd — and a candidate not yet named — it will be a competitive race, since all candidates are intelligent, energetic and up-to-speed on major issues facing the town.

One issue, it seems, will be near the top of the list — affordable housing — and it will be revealing how the two sides approach the issue, with all candidates staunchly in favor of coming to grips with the problem.

Mr. Siller and Mr. Bebon are on the Community Housing Board, and both are serious about making that board a venue for practical measures — and not just talk — to create affordable housing here, and Mr. Colligan is in step with his running mates.

On the Republican side, Mr. Gerth showed strength and commitment to the idea last summer. The supervisor reversed course on how to use the house next to Town Hall at 40 North Ferry Road that has two units, one with two bedrooms and the other with three bedrooms and a total of 3.5 bathrooms. After announcing the $700,000 purchase, the word from Town Hall was that the building would be used for town offices.

But a week later, the purpose for buying the house had changed. It was announced that residents renting the units won’t have to move and, in fact, the rental units would be brought up to code.

The town, Supervisor Gerth said, just needs parking space, and won’t house employees in the 2,900-square-foot multi-family house that sits on a three-quarters of an acre lot.

As we said then, it makes no difference if elected officials acted to reverse the decision because they began to hear from their constituents, or came to their senses by themselves. The result is what counted, and we tipped our cap to Mr. Gerth.

If young people and working people can’t afford to live here, then we are in danger of turning “our jewel of an Island into an elitist private club between two ferries,” as former Councilman Ed Brown so eloquently warned as he was leaving office.

We need a mix of incomes, ages and professions to retain the character of the Island we love and not see it become just another garden-variety resort community.

With the Community Housing Board, under the energetic leadership of Chairwoman Mary-Faith Westervelt, and all candidates running for public office committing themselves to making affordable housing a reality, government will be in the vanguard of progress on one of the Island’s most critical issues.