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Supervisor Siller wants changes to Housing Board’s actions: Says affordable efforts ‘not getting anywhere’

Could the Community Housing Board be poised to see major changes in how members envision their work? Supervisor Gerry Siller told them he plans to ask his Town Board colleagues to review what needs to be done to get a project moving.

The Community Housing Board (CHB) is too involved in nuts and bolts, but that’s not the role defined in the mandate that created the group, Mr. Siller said.

Town Code calls for the CHB to:

• Review applications for special community housing licenses

• Participate in reviewing and approving the process of applications for establishing a community housing floating zone that would provide where such housing could be created

• Recommend to the Town Board eligibility requirements for qualifying for such housing

• Maintain a housing registry to include reviewing applications, verifying eligibility, issuing certificates of eligibility to qualified applicants and maintaining a list of all certified applicants and their priority

• Serve as a liaison for community residents regarding such housing

• Interface with state, county and municipal bodies and organizations that have similar missions, including the Suffolk County Workforce Housing Commission, the North Fork Housing Alliance, the Long Island Housing Partnership Corp. and Shelter Island Housing Operations, Inc. (SIHOP) to  promote community housing opportunities for the Island

Well before the current CHB members were on board, the group under the leadership of Mary-Faith Westervelt recognized that few people were joining the registry because there were few affordable housing opportunities in the town and those tended to be in attached or stand-alone accessory spaces on properties. The endorsement of the concept by many was generally met by petitions from neighbors of any site discussed for affordable sale or rental properties with an attitude of NIMBYISM — not in my backyard.

This CHB has identified and pushed forward with two possible sites — one at the former highway barn area adjacent to the Shelter Island Historical Society and the other on Manwaring Road.

Councilman Mike Bebon, who had been chairing the CHB until his recent resignation, had regularly reported to his Town Board colleagues what the CHB is exploring. Current CHB member Chris DiOrio disagreed with Mr. Siller’s assessment of what the group should be doing.

“We should be able to advise you about what needs to happen,” he told the supervisor. If the CHB can’t give any advice on what needs to happen, there’s “just no point,” he said.

Mr. Siller’s response was that the CHB is “not getting anywhere” and that the Town Board needs to discuss the situation at an upcoming work session. Mr. Bebon wasn’t at last week’s CHB meeting.

Despite the turn of events, the CHB heard from architect Michael Shatken, an Islander who has volunteered some time to suggest what could be created for both sale and rental housing.

He suggested the Manwaring Road site might offer co-living spaces similar to dormitories to accommodate young workers entering the job market; two-bedroom apartments; and duplexes to accommodate teachers, police officers and other service workers. He said units could be built quickly and it would be important for those occupying them to have provisions requiring that if they left, the units would remain as affordables.

At previous meetings, the CHB has examined suggestions for one to two buildings at the old highway barn site that from the outside would look like large single dwellings, but inside could contain about four individual living units.

The CHB has also sought advice from a number of sources about how to bring money to the project. Most recently, they heard from Diana Weir, Southampton Town’s Housing and Community Services Director, on ways that municipality was able to launch its program for affordables.