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Helping Elders — and the Young

Wed, 12/22/2021 - 11:35


As the cliché goes, endless ink has been spilled over a wide range of subjects here on the South Fork, and while measuring it all would be pointless, we can be certain that reasonably priced housing would make the top two or three. So it was with some excitement this week that a new idea came in over the transom in the form of a letter to the editor.

The proposal is easy to understand. In his letter this week, “Rent Their Homes,” Paul Fiondella observed that with as many as 7,000 senior citizens in East Hampton Town, many live in houses too big, and in some cases too expensive, for their needs. By building smaller with the elder population in mind, the town or a private foundation would be able to open up new opportunities for younger people. Older property owners could rent to families with children, who could use the extra space. Property owners would retain their equity, as well as reserve the right to pass on their houses to heirs or whomever they liked.

From the perspective of local government and other entities working on the housing problem, this would be financially advantageous. Current affordable apartment efforts have included multi-bedroom units, which add to their overall costs.

An East Hampton Town effort to allow so-called granny cottages on properties with existing houses could not really be called a success. Restrictions are many, zoning and environmental regulations make it difficult, and the cost of building, for all but the wealthiest, all add up to make it a nonstarter. By funding construction of centrally located apartments, local governments would get far more for the money. This kind of development would go a long way toward quieting the objections from, for example, Wainscott about a proposed housing effort there would overwhelm its tiny school district. Neighbors of a project planned for Three Mile Harbor Road erupted when news of it broke.

Budgeting for solutions like that described by Mr. Fiondella could come from a proposed .5 percent real estate sales tax that is expected to be put up for a voter referendum in the fall. The anticipate income could very effectively be put toward new town-sponsored developments for older people as described above.

As we have said before, East Hampton Town is never going to build its way out of its housing challenges. Businesses here struggle to find and keep employees. Organizations like schools and important nonprofits suffer as key staff decide that their commutes are too much. Job applications dwindle as relocation to the area becomes all-but impossible because of the costs.

Finding creative, lower-cost ways to help both old and younger alike must be a key part of any solution.

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