One-quarter of households in East Hampton Town are spending at least half of their income on housing, and more than 70 percent of renters and more than 33 percent of mortgage holders are spending at least 35 percent of their income on housing.
These were among the sobering statistics revealed in a draft of the town’s community housing fund project plan, prepared in anticipation of a Nov. 8 referendum that will ask voters to approve a .5-percent real estate transfer tax, which would be in addition to the 2-percent transfer tax that goes to the community preservation fund. The Peconic Bay Region Community Housing Act, signed into law last year, authorizes the five East End towns to establish community housing funds to be paid for by that transfer tax. Should the referendum pass, the fund would become operational in January 2023.
“There are few exceptions nationally where people are struggling to the extent we are with the percentage that people pay for housing,” Jeremy Samuelson, the town’s planning director, said in a presentation to the town board during its work session on Tuesday.
The town’s population grew by fully one-third between 2010 and 2020, to a little more than 28,000, Mr. Samuelson said, and of the roughly 600 new housing units created in that span, only around 40 percent are occupied year round. The percentage of affordable housing among the approximately 21,655 existing units — a little less than 3 percent — “either stayed the same or slightly reduced.”
The median age in the town has risen to 46.8 and continues to rise, Mr. Samuelson said. “We are losing younger people and we are losing families from our community, as we all know,” he said. In that 10-year span, single-parent households fell by more than 25 percent. “We know that a major contributing factor to those single-parent households leaving town is their struggles to find adequate housing.”
“As property values have increased exponentially in the last couple of years especially, we’re going to find that our community is basically unraveling,” Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said, “and that the people who are required to make a community run, whether they be municipal workers, hospital staff, volunteer firefighters, ambulance service, teachers, police officers, the gamut — if we can’t have housing available for these folks, then we’re going to be in a very sad situation. We have basically one road in, one road out, and the ‘trade parade’ and commuting is really already at capacity.”
Buyers of a property would pay the .5-percent transfer tax, with the first $400,000 exempt up to $2 million, beyond which the full purchase price would be taxable. First-time home buyers would be exempt.
Money from a community housing fund could be spent in myriad ways, from buying land and buildings to town-led or public-private construction projects for sale or rent, rehabilitation of existing buildings, down payment and other financial assistance to buyers, loans to construct accessory dwelling units, the creation of housing for employees of local businesses, the purchase of individual units within existing multiunit housing complexes, and housing counseling.
Should the referendum pass, “I would argue that we all win,” Mr. Samuelson said. “When we are able to have a more sustainable community because we can actually have people live here that provide the core services that allow our community to function, we literally become a more sustainable community. That’s socially true, it’s economically true, it’s morally true.”
Tuesday’s discussion had the tone of a nascent public relations campaign, with the board brainstorming on how to alert voters to the importance of the referendum’s passage in November, after which the town would “hit the ground running with a plan that’s ready for prime time,” Mr. Samuelson said.
The wording of the referendum has to be simple and easily understood, said Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, referring to past referendums rife with confusing double negatives.
Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez suggested that 15 minutes of each work session be devoted to “dive into some of these charts so the community has a better understanding” of the plan.
The work session also saw a discussion of potentially raising the cap on the number of affordable accessory apartments per school district from 20 to 40 — East Hampton has reached its current limit — and of doubling the number that can be detached from four to eight.
Also considered was a further reduction of the lot-size requirement for a second dwelling. The town, having already decreased the requirement from an acre to three-quarters of an acre, could lower the figure to a half-acre, said Councilman David Lys.