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On Affordable Housing, Bring in the Brokers

Thu, 12/16/2021 - 13:59


In all the discussions of affordable housing, the voices that often seem underrepresented are those of real estate industry professionals. These are the people who know the ins and outs and challenges of the South Fork housing market as well as or better than anyone, and their expertise is sorely needed. Some of them do have seats at the table when wearing other hats — on school boards, appointed boards, and in advisory groups, for example, but as a whole, the area’s dominant industry is absent from the discussion.

People on the search for the ever-elusive reasonably priced rentals and even more elusive reasonably priced properties for purchase may love to malign the real estate profession, but the truth is, if there are outside-of-the-box solutions to this longstanding problem, the people working in real estate have valuable insights that are worthy of attention. We would love to see a panel of local real estate folks discuss what the new East End YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard) group calls the community housing issue. What programs do they think would be successful? What incentives might effectively help? Should zoning laws change? And what about the demand side of the equation — can we just keep on building forever without thinking about that?

There were several interesting ideas raised at an East Hampton School Board forum on affordable housing last month, among them shared-equity investment, in which investors could contribute to a pot of money that first-time homebuyers could use for down-payment help while retaining a piece of equity in the houses to recoup later on — not dissimilar from a tool employed by municipalities — and a Habitat for Humanity model in which mortgage payments are reverse engineered and upfront purchase costs are as low as $3,000.

The community housing fund, similar to the Peconic Bay Community Preservation Fund, a half-percent tax on most real estate transfers, exempting first-time homebuyers, will be on ballots in 2022. If this is approved, and especially if it is not, the real estate pros will be needed to guide effective housing policy.

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