The need for affordable community housing is a fact of life in most communities across the country, certainly in every village and town on the East End of Long Island. Yet myths, fear, prejudice and misunderstanding often cloud the debate. To give a little perspective to the conversation, here are seven affordable housing myths and realities, adapted from â€śBusted: Seven Myths About Affordable Housingâ€ť by Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity on February 18, 2020.
REALITY: There are thousands of local residents on affordable housing waiting lists on the East End, and some of them have been on these lists for years.
Case in point: In Southampton Town, there are more than 1,600 names on the registry for community housing and new applicants are signing up every day. Last reported, over 90 percent of them are local residents. A majority of the remaining 10 percent are former residents who wish to return to their hometown to live and work near family and friends. We are conducting research in the other East End towns to arrive at the complete picture of how many local residents are waiting for affordable community housing.
REALITY: Itâ€™s not uncommon to see a 15,000-square-foot private residence with 10-plus bathrooms, a pool, a tennis court and a guesthouse being built on the East End, many of them on the waterfront. These homes are typically built â€śas of rightâ€ť and go through the traditional permitting process, including environmental review, with ease.
Community housing goes through stringent environmental reviews, just like single-family housing, and is held to strict standards for groundwater quality and environmental impact. The development of innovative/alternative septic systems and other updated wastewater systems has come a long way in recent years. Additional high-efficiency green-building systems for heating, cooling, energy production and conservation are all being used by todayâ€™s community housing developers.
In addition, adequate workforce housing will take employees off the roads, save fuel, reduce carbon emissions, reduce emergency service response times and create a healthier environment for us all.
REALITY: Repeated research shows affordable housing has no negative impact on home prices or on the speed or frequency of sale of neighboring homes. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, 85 percent of affordable housing meets or exceeds federal quality standards. That means affordable community housing is either on-par with its surrounding neighborhood or in even better condition than neighboring houses. Recent developments in East Hampton, Riverhead and Southampton towns clearly demonstrate the high quality that can be achieved in community housing.
REALITY: Builders of affordable housing must comply with all the same building codes and regulations on design and construction standards as market-rate projects. Because affordable housing projects frequently rely, in part, on public money, they have to comply with additional restrictions and higher standards than market-rate housing.
The reality is that affordable housing is affordable because public and private funds go into making it less costly to live in, not because the construction is of lower quality.
REALITY: The opposite is actually true. Without affordable housing, many families become trapped in a cycle of rising rents and have to move frequently to find living space they can afford. That means their children are not able to stay in the same school for long, resulting in lower test scores on standardized tests.
When children have a stable home and the ability to remain in a single school system, their test scores rise. It also means children are able to build long-term relationships with peers, teachers, and mentors that are key to increasing performance in school. And it increases the likelihood that children will be able to attend college.
REALITY: Affordable community housing actually enhances local tax revenues. By improving or replacing substandard housing, affordable community housing becomes a net plus on the tax rolls. Community housing owners contribute to the local economy in the taxes they pay, the money they spend in local businesses, and in how they increase property values and revenue in a neighborhood.
REALITY: Some of the local community members impacted by a lack of affordable community housing include employers, young family members going out on their own, seniors who are unable to live alone due to health conditions, low-income households, entry-level workers, divorcing couples, firefighters and EMTs, police officers, military personnel, veterans and teachers. The lack of affordable community housing means businesses struggle to retain qualified workers, and it lowers the amount of money available to spend in those businesses. Affordable community housing isnâ€™t strictly about doing something to help the poor; itâ€™s about improving business and raising the standards of working- and middle-class families, while giving young people the opportunity to save for a down payment on a home of their own. Affordable community housing benefits the community at large.
Michael Daly lives in Sag Harbor and is founder of East End YIMBY, or â€śYes In My Backyard,â€ť an affordable housing advocacy group. Mr. Daly is also a licensed associate real estate broker and a member of the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals.
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