Skip to main content

Impacts of Housing Crisis Are Widespread

Thu, 03/10/2022 - 10:54

Children stressed by instability, medical practices unable to retain staff

While much has been made of the mental health impacts of mask mandates and remote learning on children over the past two years, housing insecurity has a similarly damaging effect on young people, the East Hampton Town Board was told last Thursday.

Remarks from the public during two hearings relating to affordable housing provided stark illustrations of the far-reaching impact of the ever-spiraling cost of real estate on the South Fork. One hearing was on adding an affordable housing overlay zoning designation to adjoining parcels at 776, 780, and 782 Route 114 in the Wainscott School District, acquired by the town to build affordable housing. Another was on a proposal to change the town code to allow up to four single-family residences per acre in affordable housing overlay districts where the code now allows only two per acre.

In his State of the Town address at the start of 2022, Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc announced an All Hands on Housing initiative to address the acute shortage of affordable housing, assigning tasks toward a solution to each member of the board. Several properties have been acquired to augment around 600 existing affordable housing units, nearly all of them rental properties, though there are plans to create more ownership opportunities akin to the 12 “manor house” condominiums on Accabonac Road in East Hampton, where buyers took occupancy beginning last year.

Caller after caller to the board’s virtual meeting described, for reasons of altruism, self-interest, or both, the adverse impacts of a housing crisis with which many residents are intimately familiar. The most impassioned and authoritative testimony was delivered by physicians.

As the stock of available housing options has steadily dried up in recent years, the effect on patients is readily observable, Gail Schonfeld of East End Pediatrics told the board. The longtime resident spoke of families displaced, forcing children to leave their homes and schools, and young adults to leave the town in which they grew up. She has seen the mental health impact on children who have repeatedly had to change schools, and friends, because their parents cannot find stable housing. Her own children are not immune to these conditions, she said, and the cost of housing on the South Fork has even impacted her ability to staff her own practice.

Jennifer Favre, the vice chairwoman of pediatrics at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, seconded Dr. Schonfeld’s concern, citing staffing shortages at her practice. It is “increasingly difficult to staff our office,” she said, and for those unable to find affordable housing on the South Fork, the commute from points west is “unmanageable most of the year.” Staffing shortages make it exceedingly difficult to serve an “ever-increasing population of children in need of our care,” said Dr. Favre.

Housing instability is stressful for children, she said, and a “well-documented social determinant of health.” Given her “immense student debt,” her own ability to remain on the South Fork in the long term is uncertain, she said.

Several callers to the meeting are members of East End YIMBY, an acronym for “yes in my back yard” and a pointed riposte to the “not in my backyard” attitude that could fairly be called a defining characteristic of the South Fork. Michael Daly, a Sag Harbor real estate agent, told the board that he first started seeing “many local people being priced out” of housing about a decade ago, with those reliant on rental properties in particular peril, “being Ping-Pong’ed in and out of seasonal rentals” due to an acute lack of year-round options.

Mr. Daly read a letter from a client whose desperation was apparent, begging for “anything under $3,000” per month, anywhere between Montauk and Moriches. Such expressions are “a gut-wrenching part of my day-to-day business,” he said. “We are fortunate to have a good business and have these homes to sell,” he said, “but this is the part of my business that keeps me up at night.”

Susan Kane told the board that she is a 13th-generation resident of the town, but “we’ve moved five times in the last two years” and are about to do so yet again “because we cannot afford to own.” She described a perennial juggling of summer and winter rentals. Her children are thriving in the local schools, she said, and she would like them to remain here.

Others seconded the sentiments expressed by the physicians and real estate professional, an architect also testifying to the difficulty in hiring younger employees given their inability to live east of the Shinnecock Canal. “I think this particular overlay is vital for how we can come closer to solving our housing crisis,” he said, noting that the location of the proposed affordable housing on Route 114 would benefit both East Hampton and Sag Harbor.

The number of young adults being lost due to the lack of affordable housing is “striking,” said another caller, a social worker who lamented the loss of those who might be teachers, police officers, and volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians. “They’re our greatest resource,” she said, “and we’re losing them.”

Thank you for reading . . . 
...Your support for The East Hampton Star helps us deliver the news, arts, and community information you need. Whether you are an online subscriber, get the paper in the mail, delivered to your door in Manhattan, or are just passing through, every reader counts. We value you for being part of The Star family.

Your subscription to The Star does more than get you great arts, news, sports, and outdoors stories. It makes everything we do possible.