Parrish's Friday Nights Live Series Tackles Affordable Housing - 27 East

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Parrish’s Friday Nights Live Series Tackles Affordable Housing

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The Parrish Art Museum's Friday panel on affordable housing.

The Parrish Art Museum's Friday panel on affordable housing.

Brendan J. OReilly on Jan 19, 2021

The Parrish Art Museum’s latest installment of its Friday Nights Live series last week delved into a topic rarely examined by arts institutions: affordable housing.

The topic ties into a Parrish-sponsored roving installation that is now on view at the museum in Water Mill, artist Scott Bluedorn’s “Bonac Blind,” a floating dwelling reminiscent of a duck blind. Mr. Bluedorn, who joined the Friday, January 15, discussion held via Zoom, explained that the unaffordability of housing on the East End was one of the main impetuses for the project.

“Bonac Blind” takes its name from the Bonackers, the “traditional culture and people of the Springs or northern area of East Hampton, around Accabonac Harbor,” Mr. Bluedorn said. “They were fishermen, farmers, hunters — they were some of the early settling families.”

The 34-year-old artist noted that he has lived and worked in East Hampton his entire life. “Over my time living here and working here, I have steadily noticed a certain decline, not just environmentally, but also kind of culturally and community-wise, with working-class people moving out of the area slowly,” he said.

“Bonac Blind,” which floats like a real duck blind and is made with native switchgrass from the Parrish meadow, is a nod to those people. On the inside, it is a finished living space, like a small bedroom, powered by a solar panel.

“Affordable housing is in very limited supply on the entire East End,” Mr. Bluedorn said. “This is kind of tongue-in-cheek solution to that.”

He encouraged looking outside the box to tackle housing problems and noted that land use is tied to why there isn’t more affordable housing on the East End.

Southampton Town Housing Authority Executive Chairman Curtis Highsmith Jr. spoke to the challenges that must be overcome to develop affordable housing, including cost, zoning and stigma.

“Most people can’t define what is affordable housing: Is it rental? Is it for sale? Is it Section 8? What exactly is the definition of affordable housing? And I think it is that unknown that causes the concerns and issues for individuals when a project is proposed,” he said.

He pointed out that the housing authority recently completed 66 affordable apartments in Sandy Hollow and Speonk, a scattered-site project that served both sides of the Shinnecock Canal. Because of the number of units achieved by combining the sites into one project, the effort could better compete for state funding, he pointed out.

The housing authority also owns and manages 37 units of senior housing in Hampton Bays, with a 200-person wait list, he said.

Since he became executive director in 2014, the housing authority has built 20 homes and an additional nine lots in Riverside are in process now, he added.

The first three affordable homes built in Southampton Village also came during Mr. Highsmith’s tenure. He used it as an example of how affordable housing advocates can combat NIMBYism — as in, “not in my backyard.”

“I’m a firm believer in whatever you develop enhances the community and does not take away,” he said, explaining that’s why the village homes are cedar shingle cottage-style houses with white trim, designed in the local vernacular.

Now, an affordable two-family home with an accessory apartment above the garage is in the approval process in the village.

“The Housing Authority has a nice portfolio of work now where we see that affordable housing does not necessarily have to be what the mindset it: Just Section 8, low-income, dilapidated, overcrowding,” Mr. Highsmith said.

Bill Chaleff, an architect with Chaleff & Rogers Architects in Water Mill, said that the two South Fork towns, Southampton and East Hampton, must pick up the pace of development. Rather than 100 new units per year on average between the two towns, he said each should be adding a couple of hundred units each year.

East Hampton Town needs 2,500 to 3,500 housing units, and Southampton Town needs between 5,000 and 7,000, he said.

He called for abandoning the “suburban pattern” that started on Long Island in the 1930s and took off after World War II. He said he could be stoned or tarred and feathered for saying it, but the South Fork needs density, and he called for new villages and hamlets to be created between the existing.

“We have to make structural changes because, as we can see, we’ve crossed the thresholds to where, again, we’re in a crisis,” he said. “Young people and older people can’t afford to be here. We don’t have balanced communities. We don’t have variety. We don’t have healthy communities. In nature, diversity is the measure of health. And we are becoming less and less diverse and we are becoming less and less healthy from a social perspective.”

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