People, especially people in politics, can’t seem to stop talking about the lack of, and desperate need for, affordable housing. Solutions have ranged from the absurd — Governor Kathy Hocul’s proposal to strip all New York State municipalities of their right to govern zoning, in favor of accessory dwelling units, essentially a green light for rent-able trailers on your neighbor’s front lawn — to many thoughtful, rational ideas on land use, legislation and the need to get something done.
Here’s one really good idea:
I spent my entire adult life in the retail business. From department store-dominated shopping, to regional malls, strip centers, outdoor “lifestyle” mixed-use shopping, to the digital world of e-commerce, I know this space. The once-thriving department store is a shadow of its former self, with millions of square feet idle. Malls and shopping centers have said goodbye to their once-powerful anchors — Sears, J.C. Penney’s, Macy’s — leaving big boxes shuttered and alone.
That represents millions of square feet of usable space — space that boasts utilities, sewers, parking, access to public transportation, shopping, restaurants and entertainment.
A local example is Bridgehampton Commons. There’s a Kmart smack in the center. Probably 100,000 square feet. It’s one of four Kmarts left in America (there were once 2,200). This big box could easily be retrofitted into 125 one-bedroom apartments. Or two-bedroom, or three-bedroom; the configuration and the numbers are not important now — the need is. Federal, state, county and town money could easily afford the funding for such a project.
So let’s talk to the landlord, Kimco Properties. Keep in mind, Kimco is going to want to maximize the return on such a prime space — they would love a long-term lease to, say, Target. So there will need to be real incentives for the landlord to entertain a conversion to affordable housing apartments.
That’s where the politicians come in. Tax incentives, upfront cash (commonly called “key money”) and zoning accommodations would be a good conversation starter. Other tenants in the Commons would more than likely welcome 200-plus new patrons who could walk to their stores.
This space is only one of 10,000. We could see literally thousands of affordable units available overnight.
The space is there. The need is there. The money is there. The reward is there.
Let’s do it.
Village of North Haven
One fine body…