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Nov 19, 2009 1:38 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Lunch With: Tony Panza

Nov 19, 2009 1:38 PM

Recently, the Southampton Business Alliance Housing Initiative undertook a big project to create more affordable housing in Southampton Town.

The not-for-profit group has already donated properties—two energy-efficient homes with attached apartments in Sagaponack Woods on Merchants Path in Sagaponack—and is currently working on another project on Carter Avenue in Hampton Bays. A housing lottery for the properties was held last month at Southampton Village Hall.

Anthony Panza, the owner of Turtle Pond Builders in Southampton and board president of the Southampton Business Alliance Housing Initiative, recently sat down and discussed his group’s ideology—and common misconceptions about affordable housing—over chicken quesadillas at 75 Main in Southampton.

Q: How long has the Southampton Business Alliance been around? And when was the Housing Initiative formed?

A: It’s been out there a good number of years, I’m going to guess 16, 18 years. The Housing Initiative portion, that’s been since 2008.

Q: Are there different members on the Housing Initiative as are in the Business Alliance? How many members are in each group?

A: There are different members. Approximately 12 people on the Housing Initiative. The Southampton Business Alliance is well in excess of 100.

Q: Why did The Southampton Business Alliance decide to even delve into affordable housing?

A: This is an expensive area to live in. It’s tough for the regular people who want to live here year-round.

Q: I read that the Housing Initiative was deeded the Sagaponack Woods property in mid-2008. Which came first, the land or the group?

A: The formation of the Housing Initiative came first and then we went to the town. Jim Zizzi and a few others went and said ‘We’re putting this together, we have the expertise, and we’d like to have the land if you can donate it to us and make it happen.’ Jim was really instrumental in getting the Housing Initiative going.

Q: Was there any kind of cash exchange for the Sagaponack properties between the Housing Initiative and the town?

A: The Town of Southampton gave us the land.

Q: Going forward, are there more projects in the works?

A: As you know, we’re working on a house on Carter Avenue in Hampton Bays that will hopefully be getting approval soon. Another project we’re looking at is a 5-acre piece further west in the Westhampton/Remsenburg/Speonk area. There we’re looking to put up five single-family houses with accessory apartments. What we have to do is prove to the town that we can handle the task.

Q: Regarding the accessory apartments for the Sagaponack properties, are they part of the lottery too or does the landlord have discretion on who to rent to?

A: No, it’s not part of the lottery drawing, the homeowner makes that decision. But there are guidelines and things they’ll have to adhere to.

Q: The accessory apartments seem like a novel way to address another problem here on the East End, that of affordable places to rent. Can you talk about that a bit?

A: The accessory apartments are genius and I hope to see more of that type of building. First, they make the home much more affordable to the home buyer and secondly, they’re also a great use for somebody to be able to affordably rent out here. So we’re addressing two housing needs in one location.

Q: These projects are also in partnership with the Long Island Housing Partnership, are you going to go forward with them on future houses?

A: We think the Alliance works well with them. It’s a three-pronged approach; the Town of Southampton, the Southampton Business Alliance Housing Initiative and the Long Island Housing Partnership. The work gets done.

Q: As to the choice of locations, do the lottery winners get to choose?

A: You really don’t know. Your name is put in some order based upon the drawings. At that point, they will work through the order.

Q: So the first name drawn can’t automatically opt for Hampton Bays instead

of Sagaponack Woods and then

get their pick?

A: It’s first drawn in the order of the location. Unfortunately it’s not a choice of property, though you can choose to go back on track into the lottery.

Q: So the winners who get picked first for Sagaponack but have a different location preference, say for Hampton Bays, don’t get a leg up during the next go-round, they just go back into the barrel, so to speak?

A: Correct.

Q: There are some people who complain that affordable or workforce housing will bring a bad element into the area. Do you agree?

A: This is workforce housing for the people who live and work here and can’t afford to buy otherwise. There are a lot of people that make money, just not enough—school teachers, nurses, town employees—who qualify for this program. They can’t afford to buy a home. So we needed to address that issue. We need to have more of a blending of income levels out here, you cannot be 100 percent New York City individuals on the wealthy side. You have to have a diverse community that’s made up of multiple and varied socioeconomic groups.

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Perhaps instead of having a couple of subsidized housing units it would be better if workers were paid a living wage. The Town could help by providing for afordable housing in the zoning code instead of making it illegal.
By bird (736), Southampton on Nov 20, 09 8:41 AM
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