“It’s been 20 years and I think with the crisis we have in housing, it’s time to update our plan,” Southampton Town Director of Housing & Community Development Diana Weir said. “We all know that it’s gotten worse.”
Southampton hasn’t updated the housing portion of its comprehensive plan since 1999, and is now looking for help in doing so. At its February 11 meeting, town board members unanimously approved the hiring of VHB, a team of engineers, scientists, planners, and designers that will create a detailed list of the town’s inventory of affordable housing, see where and how the town is lacking, and come up with new and creative solutions to drive up availability.
“I think we’ve done a lot. This board has been very aggressive moving affordable housing forward,” Weir said, pointing to updates in the town’s accessory apartment law and new developments like Sandy Hollow Cove and Speonk Commons Apartment Complex, among other initiatives. “This company will just give us a more in-depth report of what type of housing we’re missing and gather community input — a needs assessment — and they’ll study traffic and work with businesses and create a plan.”
Southampton put out a request for proposal and the director of housing said she thought VHB had the most local experience — working with Brookhaven, East Hampton, Babylon, and Islip towns — and their rates were lower. The RFP could not exceed $50,000, with the money coming from the town’s housing opportunity fund.
“Maybe this company knows what has worked in other areas, has interesting approaches we haven’t thought of,” Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said. “That’s the hard part. We need ways to move forward.”
Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni, who asked the town compare what it does and offers to comparable places like San Francisco or Park City, UT, said the availability of housing connects to many issues — not just traffic, but service jobs and volunteer positions like at ambulances and firehouses. Councilman John Bouvier said the update could connect with legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Fred Thiele and Senator Ken LaValle that would require five East End towns adopt a housing plan before establishing a dedicated fund financed by an additional 0.5 percent increase to the existing 2 percent tax on real estate transfers that makes up the Community Preservation Fund. The bill would make the option available, not mandatory, to the towns of East Hampton, Riverhead, Shelter Island, Southampton, and Southold.
“The legislation would generate about $18 million annually for housing,” Thiele said. “The money would be used for a variety of options to increase the availability of affordable housing, including assistance for first-time home buyers, construction of new housing, rehabilitation of buildings, employee housing, etc.”
The assemblyman said the bill would increase the exemptions from the tax from $250,000 to $400,000, and decrease the tax liability for all real estate sales under $1 million.
“There are a lot of opportunities here for us to create a policy based on community needs,” Bouvier said. “I believe this legislation will pass next year. I see this as a template, and it will also help our seniors and veterans.”
The legislation passed both houses of the state Legislature in 2019, but was vetoed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in December. Thiele and LaValle met with the governor’s counsel about the legislation in January and have since re-introduced it.
“Even if that doesn’t go through, this could be helpful,” Schneiderman said. “We’re up against some very large macroeconomic forces. The cost of land is $1 million and up. There’s just no way working people could ever buy a home here.”
Weir would like the study and surveying to be done during the summer, when more people are out on the East End. She said it will take at least a year to conduct a full review.