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Blighted property in Greenport may become a Habitat for Humanity home

Habitat for Humanity

On Nov. 25, 2003, Suffolk County Executive Robert Gaffney transferred a foreclosed property to the Village of Greenport, earmarking it for use as affordable housing.

Now, after 13 years with no activity at the site, its purpose may finally be fulfilled.

In January, Diane Burke, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk, approached the Greenport Village Board about the possibility of using that parcel, at 324 Johnson Court, to build an affordable house.

According to the county, however, “all time periods for construction and occupancy … have expired,” which means Suffolk would have to grant an extension for the project to proceed.

Suffolk’s 72-H program, as it is known, allows the county to transfer repossessed parcels to other municipalities for affordable housing purposes. Such transfers generally come with time limits, but extensions are largely procedural and, as Greenport has received several in the past, another is likely to be approved, opening the door for a qualifying family to put down roots in Greenport. So it appears the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place.

Village attorney Joe Prokop said at a recent Village Board meeting that, with a resolution sponsored by county Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) on the table, the transfer of 324 Johnson Court from the village to Habitat for Humanity “will be moving ahead now.” 

Trustees Mary Bess Phillips and Doug Roberts both seem to have been considering the property’s future, following different tracks to the same goal: transforming the derelict parcel, where a decrepit building is surrounded by overgrown trees and trash, into something of great potential value. Ms. Phillips was wondering how, or if, the village could use apply existing grant funds toward the effort while Mr. Roberts reached out to see if Habitat for Humanity would be interested in taking it on.

Ms. Phillips said her research revealed the earlier covenant requiring that the property be used for affordable housing — a covenant that will remain in force should the village end up granting the land to Habitat for Humanity.

“Anything that deals with giving someone the availability of house ownership is a real positive thing,” Ms. Phillips said.

Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk has expanded from two crews to four in recent years and completes about a dozen homes per year, Ms. Burke said. In 2013, it granted one lucky local a home in Orient — though it doesn’t come entirely for free. A down payment of $1,500 is expected and prospective owners must put in 300 hours of sweat equity helping with other Habitat houses. In addition, they must take courses on financial responsibility.

It remains unclear why no movement has been made on the property since Greenport first received it in early 2004. Former mayors Dave Kapell and David Nyce did not return calls seeking comment.

The site is located near the old village dump, so contamination could be an issue. Ms. Burke said Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk “probably would not abate a soil problem.” Once the two entities are in contract on a transfer — after Suffolk approves an extension for Greenport — tests would be done to determine if there is any contamination on the site.

Until then, village leaders are hoping at least one more unit of affordable housing makes its way into the village, especially amid an overall surge in area real estate prices. A recent Douglas Elliman report noted that the prices of single-family homes on the North Fork rose over 20 percent in the first quarter of 2016 compared to the previous year.

“We have an affordable reasonably priced rental and housing problem here in our region, and it comes to a head here in the village,” said Mr. Roberts. “And the village owns a couple of lots. The village doesn’t have the capacity to build houses. It’s not what we do.”

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Photo: The Greenport Village Board is considering turning this house at 324 Johnson Court over to Habitat for Humanity for affordable housing. (Credit: Nicole Smith)