Most East End voters will find three propositions on the back of their ballots this election, labeled One, Two, and Three. The first would authorize the State of New York to borrow $4.2 billion for a huge range of environmental and climate change projects. The second proposal would close a loophole in Suffolk law regarding term limits. The third would establish an affordable housing tax in any of the towns in which a majority of the public vote “yes.” We believe that each should be approved, with several caveats that the officials who manage them must take into consideration.
The problem with Proposition One is not its intent, but which state agency would handle it. The Department of Environmental Conservation, chronically overstretched and underbudgeted, would suddenly find itself in charge of distributing billions for a shopping list that includes shoreline buyouts, habitat restoration, wastewater treatment, zero-emission school buses, renewable energy, and more. The massive Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act of 2022 would put the department in the impossible dual roles of project funder and project regulator, with all the waste, corruption, and confusion that could arise. Albany lawmakers will have to redouble their oversight of the D.E.C. to ensure that the fund is spent responsibly.
Proposition Two is straightforward: It would cap the offices of Suffolk executive, comptroller, and legislator at 12 years total. As the law is now, officials who wanted to stay on indefinitely could “reset the clock” by resigning or skipping an election, then jumping back in for another 12 years.
Proposition Three has been the most controversial. The .5-percent tax on most high-value real estate sales would go into each approving town’s community housing fund to be used for low-interest loans, new construction, rental rehabilitation, and buying rental units to be made available to qualified people through affordable programs, among other things. First-time homebuyers would be exempt; the tax would apply to purchases above $400,000 on deals up to $2 million and to the entire cost above $2 million. Opposition, where it has been heard, is mostly of the “not in my backyard” variety. Riverhead chose not to put the measure up to a vote.
If the tax is approved, it will go into effect in January and could bring in more than $10 million in East Hampton Town alone. A committee of housing nonprofit representatives and people in the building trades, real estate, and banking would advise the town board on funding decisions. At the same time, work is underway to revisit sections of the zoning code to allow more flexible solutions. The entire Community Housing Opportunity Fund Plan, as well as an information sheet, is available on the town’s website. The need is acute; thousands of names are on housing waiting lists here. The money may not make the problem go away, but will help in a big way.
Propositions One and Three could make a real difference on the East End, where environmental and housing issues are acute. As ever, their effectiveness will depend on their implementation.