At last Tuesday’s meeting of the North Sea Citizens Advisory Committee, Curtis Highsmith, executive director of the Southampton Housing Authority, which administers Section 8 housing, gave a presentation on affordable housing. Mr. Highsmith also is a longtime member of the Southampton Village Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review.
The many questions and discussions made it clear that “affordable housing” means different things to different people, and it is a large and complicated problem that has to be studied carefully. Public input is essential to this.
The natural resources of the East End have made it very desirable, and we have gone from being a laid-back, rich summer colony on the edges of a local community to a tourist destination, a retirement haven and a great place to have a second home. Very limited actual land, and high-end real estate development, along with soaring taxes, have pushed out established neighborhoods that once were home to full-time local residents who used to work and live here. Now, many of the new homeowners leave after the summer.
There is no denying that the impact of the building boom of the last 20 years has created a housing shortage and had a detrimental effect on the local community.
The changing homeowner population and the increase of new development created a need for hundreds of workers, which causes the gridlocked “trade parade” on the highway and on local streets seven days a week, as most of them come from west of the canal. The supply of affordable housing here and in most of the country has shrunk drastically, forcing workers to travel greater distances to work and forcing second generations to pull up stakes and move elsewhere.
Federal and state funding have incentivized many new not-for-profit affordable housing groups and organizations. Affordable housing is a lucrative industry. On Tuesday night, the questions—what is affordable housing? who pays for it? and who is eligible for it?—were on everyone’s minds.
The quick answer is that it isn’t—and can’t be, by law—only for local residents and workers. It is open to everyone, from everywhere. It boils down to how much increased density (down-zoning) the town and village can sustain. How many people should we import here, and how much land is actually available and works for “affordable housing”? A survey of all appropriate land in the town and village that might be considered is overdue.
Also discussed was what form affordable housing should take: free-standing houses, or large complexes.
It was clear to me that community input is necessary. The issue is too big to be decided case by case.
Joseph R. McLoughlinSouthampton VillageMr. McLoughlin is a member of the Southampton Village Planning Commission—Ed.
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