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Thousands More Housing Units Needed, Officials Say

Thu, 06/20/2019 - 10:32
South Fork housing officials discussed the issue Monday night at a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons. From left were the league’s Cathy Peacock, Catherine Casey of the East Hampton Housing Authority, Tom Ruhle of the East Hampton office of housing and community development, Curtis Highsmith Jr. of the Southampton Housing Authority, Diana Weir of the Southampton housing and community development office, and Ann Sandford of the league.
Arlene Hinkemeyer

“Without affordable housing, we’re going to lose the communities we’ve grown to love,” said Tom Ruhle, the director of East Hampton Town’s office of housing and community development, at a forum on affordable housing hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons on Monday. 

The event at the Hampton Library in Bridgehampton saw Mr. Ruhle and three other housing officials from East Hampton and Southampton defend and extoll the virtues of government-assisted housing projects.

In East Hampton Town, the median house price is around $1.1 million, Mr. Ruhle said, which is out of reach of first-time home buyers. The high prices drive out East Hampton natives who grew up in the area but cannot afford their own homes, he said, hence the town’s decreasing year-round population. The only way for them to stay is with some form of government-assisted housing, which could come in the form of rent subsidies, rent-controlled units, public-private partnerships to sell homes below market price, or subsidized developments. 

One of the primary goals of the speakers was to “de-stigmatize” affordable housing in all of its forms, be it federal Section 8, or rent-subsidized housing, or houses sold below market rate, Curtis Highsmith Jr., the executive director of the Southampton Housing Authority, said. Subsidized or affordable housing can conjure images of broken windows, abandoned homes, and tanking property values, he said, when those fears are unfounded. 

Regulations imposed and inspections conducted by the housing authority are strict and regular enough that any violation, even as small as having a hole in a window screen, can lead to the unit being revoked. 

“If we do our jobs well . . . the tenants or owners will have pride of place,” said Catherine Casey, the executive director of the East Hampton Housing Authority, who said the authority wants tenants to think of the apartments as their own. 

The vast majority of people who take advantage of affordable housing already live or work in a 50-mile radius of the town, said Diana Weir, the director of the Southampton office of housing and community development.Already there are 667 affordable housing units in the Town of East Hampton, with another 37 under development in the Gansett Meadow development in Amagansett, Ms. Casey said. With each new project taking at least five years from the groundbreaking until the tenants move in, she said it was important to always have a development in process. The Southampton Housing Authority recently started accepting applications for 65 units in the Sandy Hollow Cove Apartments in Southhampton and the Speonk Commons in Speonk.

However, the work is far from over, officials said Monday. In East Hampton 17 percent of all units are rentals, while nationally 34 percent of units are rentals, Ms. Casey said. She attributed the high housing prices partially to that disparity, because it could be economically unfeasible for many to buy a house. Mr. Ruhle estimated that East Hampton Town needs at least 1,000 more affordable housing units to address the housing shortage and issues such as traffic that come along with it, while Ms. Weir estimated that Southampton needed at least 3,000 more affordable housing units to meet its needs.

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