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Shelter Island Reporter: Affordable housing facts

The final plan being developed by the Community Housing Fund Advisory Board and Town consultant Kathryn Eiseman may not be complete. But enough has come forward to put to rest a lot of false information circulated by critics of the November referendum.

These skeptics have claimed TDRs (Transfer of Development Rights) would result in great density throughout the town and would enable credits to be used for commercial use.

Currently, TDRs are off the table. If the Town Board eventually is able to restore TDRs, they could only be used for affordable housing.

To imply affordables would represent over-development is entirely wrong, given that we now know the focus of the Housing Plan is on a need for between 20 and 40 units, not hundreds of structures.

Money could be spent to help build new units, starting with rentals that those who have responded to a housing survey or voiced opinions at workshops have indicated is their preference. Eventually, some sale units could be added to the mix.

But don’t discount “accessory dwelling units.” These are apartments that can be created in existing houses, or in accessory buildings on properties, that could be rented. If 10 such units could be secured, that would leave between 10 to 30 units of affordables to be built.

Money could be spent from the 0.5% real estate transfer tax to help renovate existing properties to accommodate renters.

What would new units look like?

They wouldn’t be large apartment houses more appropriate to urban areas. Drawings have been made public that demonstrate they would very much fit with the character of the Island. A four-apartment complex would look very much like a single house.

The Community Housing Fund Advisory Board has stressed it wants new units to be sustainable using Smart Growth principles, including green energy. New structures would have to gain approvals that affect water use and septics.

Town code requires that nitrogen-reducing I/A septic systems be installed for all new residential construction with greater than 1,500 square feet of living space.

Voting for using the transfer tax wouldn’t result in creating a multi-million dollar slush fund for the Island. Only during the height of the pandemic did a 2% Community Preservation Fund transfer tax show large income numbers.

A 0.5% transfer tax exempting first time property buyers and higher exemptions for many other property buyers would be useful, but not pay to construct much affordable housing.

Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (D-Sag Harbor) who wrote the State legislation creating the Community Housing Fund, pointed out that delaying a vote means money that could help build affordable housing would not be forthcoming.

There is no reason to delay a positive vote on Nov. 8.