The Southold Town Board approved zoning changes this week that could lead to the building of higher density affordable housing complexes within the town. At least, on paper that could happen. The realities of economics and infrastructure were quickly noted. Specifically, Supervisor Scott Russell pointed out Tuesday that affordable housing complexes are often economically infeasible, even when developers are offered grant money. The town’s lack of sewer systems also poses a roadblock to such projects.
Words like “risk,” “hurdles” and “difficult” are often used at Town Hall in discussing affordable housing. But the Town Board needs to rise to this challenge — and with that, take some risks — because it can be argued that the lack of affordable housing for young working people starting careers -in Southold — and many others who have long worked in our largely tourist economy — threatens our long-term economic health and sustainability. The so-called brain drain that comes with a dearth of affordable housing is a slow bleed; hence, the issue has not received the level of public and government attention it deserves.
Deer and helicopters are in our faces; they cause people to react — and act. Yet no one packs Town Hall to talk about our big housing problem. Perhaps one glaring example of this can be seen at a former labor camp in Cutchogue, where tenants are willing to live year-round at rents of over $1,000 a month on a property that was cited by the town for housing people illegally, and where the county health department deemed the drinking water unsafe last year.
Those residents say they can’t find anything for less money.
In July, members of the town Housing Advisory Commission urged the Town Board to act on strategies outlined in the comprehensive plan.
“We need your leadership,” begged commission member Rona Smith. In that same conversation, the possibility of tax incentives for builders came up. Mr. Russell said the town would need state approval for such a program and suggested that the commission reach out to state Sen. Ken LaValle.
It is Mr. Russell who should be making that call.
Finding affordable housing for young professionals is a significant issue. It affects many local families and business owners and has no easy solution. It needs a serious response and leadership from the top — and soon.