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Board sets up affordable housing fund: A must to have in place if voters agree on need for housing

The move to establish Town-sponsored affordable housing on Shelter Island took a large step on Friday, April 29.

The Town Board, at its regular meeting, established a Community Housing Fund, where monies received from various sources solely dedicated to building or acquiring affordable housing — including a new tax, grants and Town funds— would be deposited. The vote was unanimous.

Last October, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed legislation that will allow East End towns to establish a new real estate sales transfer tax for community housing funds.

The new law, which had been previously vetoed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), will authorize the five towns in the Peconic Bay region to hold referenda on adding 0.5% to the existing 2% Community Preservation Fund tax on real estate transactions in those towns. Each town must present a detailed plan for the funds to their respective communities before holding a referendum this November.

With the resolution passed by the Board, no funds have been allocated. It was merely setting it up to be used if voters approve the November referendum here. As Councilwoman Meg Larsen noted after the vote, “This is the piggy bank. The plan will say how it will be used.”

The fund can be used for buying land, construction, planning and engineering and related costs.

Supervisor Gerry Siller noted that  Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor), who co-sponsored the State legislation with state Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), has calculated that if the housing fund had been in place in 2020 when Gov. Cuomo vetoed it, $30 million could have been generated in the region for affordable housing.

Elizabeth Hanley, who is chairwoman of Community Housing Fund Advisory Board, which is in the process of creating an affordable housing plan for the Island, gave a presentation on the legislation.

Resident Stephen Jacobs asked about the other names given to affordable housing, including community housing and workforce housing. Town Attorney Stephen Kiely noted that “community housing” is the term used in the State’s legislation, but all of the terms mean the same thing.

Those eligible for affordable housing must live or work on the Island and their incomes would be capped at $124,7000 for a one-or two person household, and $148,800 for a three-or more- person household. If the referendum is passed in each town, the legislation would also increase the exemption on improved properties on the East End, effectively reducing the real estate transfer tax for nearly one-third of all transactions.

The exemption on Shelter Island would be increased from $250,000 to $400,000 — ultimately reducing the existing transfer tax to $1 million or less on Shelter Island and the South Fork.