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The Mast-Head: Not for Rent

Tue, 05/10/2022 - 18:52

Someone left a note tucked behind the screen door at a friend’s house recently, looking for a place to rent. The property appeared vacant in the last few months, so the writer made her pitch. Her children liked the school district they were in, and she would look after the house as if it were their own. She had been looking for months, but there was nothing. I saw the note. A hard knot formed in my stomach.

The brutal reality here is that reasonably priced year-round or even seasonal rooms are essentially nonexistent. A man who advertises in The Star posted a room for rent in the classifieds and was inundated with calls. He found a tenant almost instantly.

Thing was, though, it was not even really a room, but a portion of a screened porch into which he had built windows and a door. The space looked neat and charming in photos, but there was access only to a toilet and sink, nowhere to cook, and the shower was outside. The young man who agreed to take it seemed to think that was fine for the price.

Plenty of people who have summer jobs in Montauk live in campers, especially around the lake. Others couch-surf. Some sleep in their cars. There is a homeless camp in the woods in East Hampton.

As we have reported endlessly in this newspaper, elected officials take the need for housing seriously and have tried all sorts of answers. But, as we have also pointed out, town governments are never going to build their way out of the crisis. In fact, they have helped worsen the problem by allowing apartments to be converted to office space and standing by idly as the existing rental stock is turned into lucrative short-term rentals.

Cutting the supply via inaction would be bad enough, but the towns and villages have also stood by as development and expanding businesses drove the demand for labor — and places for the work force and their families to live — higher.

Bureaucratic hurdles for those who would like to add rental units on their own properties are too complicated for most people to deal with without hiring expensive professional help. That help adds thousands to the cost months before a building permit might be sought. My guess is that some, if not most, people who had contemplated doing something to help give up before even starting.

There are two sides to this coin, and so far this community has failed in both.

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