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Housing Board considers affordable options

The Community Housing Board is exploring three scenarios that could bring what is called “perpetually affordable” rentals to Shelter Island.

The first is a town-owned site where the old Highway Department barn stood near the Shelter Island Historical Society. Discussed in the past, it’s currently used mainly as an impound lot by the Police Department, a storage space for Highway Department supplies and equipment and a staging site for town construction projects.

When the idea was floated about its possibility as an affordable housing site, former public works commissioner Jay Card Jr. and Town Engineer John Cronin weighed in against it.

But at the Community Housing Board meeting on Oct. 23, Councilwoman Amber Brach-Williams called the objections “a hurdle to be overcome.” Building Permit Examiner Lori Beard Raymond added, “It’s going to be a challenge but it’s not a challenge that can’t be overcome.”

A second site, also town-owned, is near the cell tower at the Recycling Center that could either be used for housing or relocation of the police impound lot.

A third site that hasn’t been made public would have to be purchased.
Committee Chairman Mike Bebon suggested another option, a turnkey situation in which a contractor would provide a site, build a unit similar to the single building with four living units that the Housing Board has discussed, and turn it over to the town to pay off a 30 to 40-year mortgage.

That would allow the project to get underway sooner than if the town has to identify the site before putting out a request for proposals for construction alone.

The developer would get his money upfront, while the town would pay off the mortgage and lease the site back to the developer for a token fee so construction could begin.

“The idea is to leverage this with the expertise of people who do this for a living,” Mr. Bebon said.

“I think that’s the easiest way to go,” Housing Board member and licensed associate real estate broker Peter McCracken said. His colleagues agreed.

The site would have to be buildable, plus building permits and septic and well placements would have to meet Suffolk County Department of Health Services approval. Mr. Bebon said.

With his colleague encouraging further exploration of the idea, the chairman said he was pleased they didn’t think his suggestion is “crazy.”

All of the possibilities will continue to be pursued, members agreed.

A discussion about allowing people to create affordable accessory apartments in existing housing raised a question of how to ensure the property owner wouldn’t abandon the affordable use and return the rental to a market price.

Diana Weir, Southampton Town’s Director of Housing & Community Development, told members at a recent visit that strict enforcement is the tool used in her town.