Pictured above is ‘The Cottages’ in Mattituck, a 20-year owner-occupied affordable housing complex that has proven to be a rare success in Southold Town’s fight for affordable housing.

Members of Southold Town Council voted 5-1 to hold a referendum on the November ballot on whether to set up a community housing fund, funded by a 0.5% property transfer tax, which would be used to fund affordable housing initiatives in the city. .

In doing so, Southold joins the towns of Southampton, East Hampton and Shelter Island in pledging to bring the creation of the new fund to voters in November, but Riverhead Town Council, at its July 28 business session, officially decided not to go ahead with the referendum.

If voters approve the funds in November, each town in the East End other than Riverhead would create a dedicated fund to be used to fund affordable housing priorities, which could differ in each of the five towns depending on housing plans in being worked out in the East End.

The money could be used for a range of affordable housing goals, from helping to buy a first home, to building new affordable housing complexes, to rehabilitating existing housing and provision of educational services to new buyers.

Southold had been on the fence much of this spring and summer on whether to hold the referendum, a decision that needed to be made in all five East End towns by August 8 in order to inform the Suffolk County Board of Elections of the referendum vote. .

City council members had initially expressed reservations about holding a vote before the city completes its housing plan, but they recently hired a consultant to help draft the plan and hope to get a rough idea of what the plan will contain before the vote in November. . Council members also said the city could lose up to $3 million in revenue if it waits until 2023 to hold the referendum.

At a special public hearing on August 2, residents who spoke had mixed feelings about the referendum.

Jane Flinter of Mattituck shared stories of distress from neighbors and friends.

One of her next door neighbours, she said, had trouble breathing in the middle of the night one night last year and had to wait an hour and a half because the fire department of Mattituck was unable to raise an ambulance crew and had to call in help from neighboring districts, while another family, whose well water treatment business declined as more and more people are connecting to public water, resting on friends’ couches after a bout of bad luck with their businesses and health.

“Speaking about my emotional side, it bothers me,” she said. “It’s a direct result of the lack of affordable housing… It’s not true. It’s not the community character that my husband and I saw when we moved here 30 years ago.

David Levy, a lawyer for Laurel, said the new fund would take money that would now go to the city’s Community Preservation Fund for the preservation of open space and farmland – the exemption from this tax will be increased. parallel to the creation of the new housing. Funds. He said he’s worried other residents will subsidize affordable housing if property taxes on homes sold to affordable buyers are lower than property taxes on homes at the market rate.

Randy Wade of Greenport said it’s the volunteer spirit of our local fire department and ambulance corps that keeps our property taxes low, and the city risks losing the backbone of the middle class and worker people who live here full time and are willing to volunteer.

“If you really want to see people hunted, make sure we don’t have these volunteer forces,” she said. “I have a friend who needed medical help at home, and she was told they weren’t going east of Riverhead.”

Glynnis Berry of Peconic Green Growth suggested the city consider funding secondary suites and do a cost-benefit analysis of which programs would be most beneficial here.

“We need to look at water use,” said Berry, a longtime water conservation advocate. “We can compensate by prohibiting the irrigation of lawns or swimming pools.”

“I applaud the work you are doing. I think it’s extremely important,” said Richard Vandenburgh, owner of Greenport Harbor Brewing Company. “So there’s no misunderstanding, there’s a crisis of affordable labor and family housing. I would attribute it to a burning house. We need strong leadership to put out this fire. This is just a bucket to get this problem under control. We we have to get ahead.”

He added that the city should also consider updating its zoning code to better provide for housing.

Michael Daly of East End YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) said he had just formed a new political action committee to “advocate for a successful referendum in the towns that chose to put this Peconic Bay community housing fund on the ballot”.

“I congratulate you for making the decision,” he said. “I hope you get the support you need.”

Margaret Steinbugler of Southold, who worked on a survey for civic associations umbrella organization North Fork Civics, said two-thirds of the 1,000 respondents to the survey said affordable housing was ‘essential or very important’ .

“People have recognized, all over the city, that this is a very big problem,” she said.

Judge Louisa Evans was the only city council member to vote “no” to put the referendum on the ballot.

“I’m not against having half a percent, but I don’t think it should be voted on until people know what the plan is,” she said.

Riverhead will not hold a referendum

Members of Riverhead City Council, who referred to this new fund as a tax increase to the Community Preservation Fund (it’s not a CPF increase. It’s a separate fund), refused to hold a referendum during their July 28 work. session, saying that Riverhead already has affordable housing.

“We already have a sufficient amount of affordable housing in the city,” Riverhead Community Development Manager Dawn Thomas said during the working session. “At Riverhead, it’s not a crisis issue. Southampton has people living in the woods which is totally unacceptable. »

Riverhead originally considered using the fund to help first-time home buyers.

“It really doesn’t suit Riverhead,” said Councilman Tim Hubbard. “It’s more suitable for Southampton or the east.”

“The CPF was not designed for all of this,” he added. “Southampton, East Hampton, step up your game. This is for you, not us.

“My concern is what will be the next step for the CPF,” he added. “What are they going to tackle? We have added water to it, but do not continue to dig. It was designed with a specific tax in mind, and it just doesn’t happen.

“Water quality and land preservation was the original intent (of the Community Preservation Fund),” Councilman Frank Beyrodt said, adding that the CPF’s 2% transfer tax increase to 2.5% including the new fund “could be a hurdle for someone buying their first home.

Councilor Bob Kern agreed, saying other East End towns should do more.

“Especially in Southampton, they are passionate and progressive people. You would think they care about the people in their community,’ he said, adding that Southampton had recently received $600 million in property transfers (the total value of the transfers, not the amount of money paid to the CPF “They have all this money from the CPF, why do they need an invoice?

“It was not the desired goal (of the CPF)”, declared the municipal supervisor Yvette Aguiar. “If it’s not going to help us personally and help young professionals, which is what we want to attract here, I agree, we shouldn’t move forward.”

Ms Aguiar said the business session conversation was the end of council’s discussion of the Community Housing Fund, and Riverhead will not move forward with its entry on the ballot.