There have been a number of questions raised in relation to community housing and the Nov. 8 referendum to determine whether or not to participate in the Peconic Bay Community Housing Fund.
Following are questions raised and answered.
Q — Why does the Town Board believe affordable housing is needed?
A — Town Board members have said younger families with members who could serve on Town committees and as Fire Department and/or Emergency Medical Service volunteers are needed to pick up responsibilities from aging volunteers.
The Town has had to hire paramedics trained in lifesaving procedures, and while a grant has paid half the cost this year, in 2023, it will have to pick up the full $235,000 annual cost.
Shelter Island School officials said more students could be accommodated at no increased cost. The ability to hire and retain staff would be eased without long commutes some staffers must make. Taxpayers bear the cost to educate students who then leave the Island for college or technical training, but most can’t return to use their knowledge and skills for lack of housing.
Q — How many units of housing are needed and would they be rentals or sale houses?
A — That is part of a current study so numbers aren’t available yet. To date, the Community Housing Board (CHB) has spoken about fewer than 20 rental and sale units. The CHB would help existing homeowners renovate existing properties to accommodate tenants. Some may be empty-nest seniors. The tenants could be housed within the main structure with a separate access to an apartment.
Q — What will newly constructed houses and apartments look like?
A — Architect Michael Shatken and Matt Sherman of Sherman Engineering & Construction have produced renderings without charge. They are similar styles; rental units would look from the outside like a single large house, but inside be divided into individual rental apartments. Sale houses would be designed as basic starter homes.
Q — What would make sale houses affordable?
A — The Town would continue to own the land on which a sale house or houses would be built. If an original buyer were to move out, he or she would be able to increase the sale price for certain improvements, but not for such luxuries such as a pool.
Q — How would buyers and renters be chosen?
A — Suffolk County sets income limits and there are programs to assist applicants in handling credit issues. If there are more qualified applicants than units, a lottery system would be used. The CHF Advisory Board is, of course, bound by federal Fair Housing Laws. The aim of the CHF, if allowed under federal law, would be to give preference to people who live or have lived on the Island for at least five years and those who work on the Island. There remain pending legal cases on whether local restrictions can be imposed, with the emphasis on ensuring minority groups aren’t being restricted.
Q — Where is the plan for how the Community Housing Fund money would be spent if voters approve participating in the program?
A — The plan is being developed by the Community Housing Fund Advisory Board in cooperation with a consultant from Nelson, Pope & Voorhis and is expected to be public by the end of September in advance of the Nov. 8 referendum vote.
The state enabling legislation that created the program doesn’t require a plan until a municipality wants to spend money on affordable housing if voters approve participation in the program. But Town officials want a plan available prior to the vote.
Q — Where would affordable housing be created?
A — Two sites have been discussed by Community Housing Board members, but the Manwaring Road site across from the Sylvester Manor farm stand envisioned for sale houses has subsequently been designated for a septic treatment system serving the Center wastewater project.
The second site for affordable rentals is adjacent to the Shelter Island Historical Society where the former highway barn was located. Any site must be approved by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, which doesn’t waive its environmental policies for community housing.
Site selection would have to meet water availability and septic requirements. Locally, the Conservation Advisory Council would be requiring necessary buffers from wetlands. Discussions about community housing have been regularly linked to SmartGrowth principles, respectful of environmental factors.
Q — Why is there talk about stripping development rights (TDRs) from preserved properties for use at affordable housing sites?
A — The preserved sites can’t use those rights. Banking them can enable use of other sites that might need greater density. But that would not increase overall density on the Island or provide any waiver from environmental requirements with respect to septics and water.
The Community Housing Fund Advisory Board holds an open house event on Saturday at Shelter Island Presbyterian Church to outline its efforts and respond to questions. Members will be available between 3 and 5 p.m..