CLT calls it quits

05/06/2010 12:00 AM |

The group that set out seven years ago to bring permanently affordable housing to the community has collapsed under the weight of the economy and an unwillingness of people to take over the reins of the struggling organization, said its president, Andrea Rive.

The membership of the Community Land Trust of Southold agreed Friday morning to dissolve the organization at its annual meeting at Peconic Landing. The vote was 5-4 with three abstentions and one vote not counted because it had been cast without a required comment.

An unidentified board member offered to front money for ongoing CLT efforts, Ms. Rive disclosed at the meeting.

“But we could not see where we could get the money to reimburse him,” she said.

“We are volunteers and we have worked as hard and long as we can,” Ms. Rive told the membership. According to the organization’s bylaws, she couldn’t serve another term as board president and no one was willing to step up and take the reins, she said. “There aren’t many people who are willing to work for nothing,” she said.

“We’ve had it,” board treasurer Harold Watts said. “We’ve pretty much become depressed,” he said about himself and his fellow board members. “What we need is live bodies ready to go to work.”

Twice on the verge of developing properties for housing, the CLT failed each time because the organization and the landowners did not close deals. Both properties were in Greenport — one on Route 25, just east of where the highway meets Route 48, and the other in the incorporated village at 314 Center Street.

“It knocked the wind out of our sails when we lost it,” Ms. Rive said about the Center Street property. The CLT had begun to move through the Planning Board process and appeared poised to win approval when it lost the deal to acquire the property.

CLT board members had their eyes on another property in the village on which Suffolk County was foreclosing, but the village expressed interest in acquiring the site at 206 South St., near Second Street, for use by its housing authority, which also provides affordable dwellings. The owners of that property are now trying to reclaim it from the county, village administrator David Abatelli said.

Ms. Rive pointed to economic difficulties in recent years, explaining that many of those who once might have qualified for CLT housing are no longer eligible because they’ve lost jobs. Also, sources of funding once available to the CLT have evaporated, Ms. Rive said.

People who want to preserve land for farming or for open space may obtain subsidies the CLT can’t get, she said.

In the past year, aside from $150 in dues paid by 15 members and a single contribution of $75, the organization has had no income. Its expenses last year for required directors’ insurance, post box rental, postage and meetings totaled $1,650. There is a $2,514 balance in its account.

The balance will be given to the Long Island Housing Partnership, which has assisted the CLT in its efforts to create affordable housing through the years, Ms. Rive said. The amount probably will be substantially less than what the CLT owes the LIHP for all of its services and support, she said.

Even if the CLT could identify a property and secure the legal and architectural volunteers it has in the past, thousands of dollars would still be needed to fund environmental studies associated with development, Ms. Rive said.

“It hasn’t gotten any better with the recession,” she said in response to suggestions that the CLT should be trying to acquire foreclosed properties. “We are unable to do anything,” she said.

“We may be hanging out for a population that isn’t here,” Ms. Rive said about potential tenants of CLT housing. Aggressive efforts in Riverhead to provide affordable housing may have met the needs of people who work in Southold Town looking for reasonably priced houses, she said.

The CLT didn’t go down without a fight. Ileen Mc Fetridge, one of the original backers of the effort first started by the Rev. Lynda Clements as an outgrowth of Women In Conversation, questioned the legality of the vote. She said the board needed to present a formal plan to the membership for dissolving the nonprofit corporation. Written ballots were distributed to everyone in the room without questioning whether they were dues-paying members. Ms. McFetridge said one of those who voted in favor of dissolving the organization has never been a member.

“I could see why the people who have been trying so long need some help,” she told board members. She said that, once a CLT board of directors had been formalized, she and other volunteers felt pushed aside. She criticized its members for failing to reach out to the wider community.

“I worked very hard to get this organized and then there was no place for me,” she said. “I don’t think you should give up an incorporation that we worked so hard to develop.”

The government has been scaling back on support for nonprofits, Ms. Rive said. Although the CLT filed the necessary paperwork to retain its status this year, she wasn’t sure it had been accepted by the government.

“We should not give up,” said Marjorie Day, another Women In Conversation member active in the CLT.

Final dissolution plans will be developed with legal counsel and distributed to members, Ms. Rive said.

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