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Citing ‘accidental administrative error,’ Vineyard View developers admit applicants were shut out of affordable housing lottery

When a confused Michelle Salmon didn’t hear her name called during Monday’s Vineyard View affordable housing lottery, she pressed play and watched for a second time as officials took turns calling out the names of everyone who applied during the live-streamed event.

The Southold resident must have just missed her name the first time, she thought. If they were adding every person who applied to the list, she had to be one of them.

It turns out, she wasn’t.

Conifer Realty, the sponsor of the project to bring 50 much-needed and highly anticipated affordable rental apartments to Greenport, announced Tuesday evening that “due to an accidental administrative error, a number of applications were unintentionally omitted” from the process.

While officials have not said exactly how many applicants were left out of the lottery, it’s believed to be fairly significant. Ms. Salmon, who commented on The Suffolk Times Facebook page Tuesday morning to say she had been left out, said she’s since heard from at least a dozen more local residents who said they had the same issue.

“These are local people,” Ms. Salmon said in an interview. They’re volunteer firefighters, EMS, they work in health care.

“We don’t know what happened.”

In a statement, Conifer Realty said it “deeply regrets this unfortunate mistake and any inconvenience it may have caused.”

The company said it will contact everyone involved in the lottery once it has a resolution plan. A representative listed as a contact in the company’s statement could not be immediately reached for further comment Tuesday evening.

Were you left out of the lottery? Contact reporter Grant Parpan at [email protected] to share your story.

Darlene Hubbard of Mattituck said she was also left off the list. A North Fork native who watched the live stream Monday but never heard her name, she has yet to hear from Conifer Realty about the mix-up. Still confused a day later, she began looking into what happened when she stumbled upon a news report about names being left off.

“They have to redo this or something for us,” she said.

Southold Town government liaison officer Denis Noncarrow helped draw the names Monday, but said he was not involved in the oversight process. Town Supervisor Scott Russell said the town did not run Monday’s lottery because the project was developed outside Southold’s affordable housing district and required no change of zone. 

“They built to the density already allowed by code,” Mr. Russell said in an email. “They must comply with [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] rules and regulations.”

Mr. Noncarrow said the town used its affordable housing registry to notify local residents seeking affordable housing of the opportunity, but was not involved in organizing the applications. He had said Monday that a total of 315 people had applied and that there was no prescreening of names outside of eliminating duplicate entries, since some people entered both online and by mail. 

“I feel terrible for everybody involved.”

Denis Noncarrow

Both Mr. Russell and Mr. Noncarrow said they do not know exactly how the mix-up occurred and that they believe Conifer Realty will have to work with state officials who oversee the HUD program in New York to work out a resolution.

“It is very unfortunate and the town has urged them to remedy the situation,” Mr. Russell said. “I hope they can resolve the issues fairly for everyone.”

“I feel terrible for everybody involved,” added Mr. Noncarrow.

Monday’s drawing was the first affordable housing lottery in Southold Town since 150 people entered for the chance to purchase 22 affordable homes at The Cottages in Mattituck in August 2005. That lottery was overseen by the town.

Jessica Terry of Greenport, who is expecting her second child in December, said she’s followed the construction of Vineyard View and prayed that it could offer her “a new start somewhere affordable and nice.” She, too, never heard her name called.

“I don’t understand how such a significant mistake could have been made, especially when this involves people’s livelihoods,” she said.

Ms. Terry called the mix-up “frustrating and discouraging” and said she feels bad for all involved.

Of course, Monday’s lottery was not initially bad news for everybody. For single mom Ashley Santacroce of East Marion, hearing her name called as No. 38 meant she had an excellent chance of getting a spot in the development.

“When I heard my name, I was almost like, ‘What?’ ” she said Monday. “I was very, very shocked.”

Kara DiBella of Wheatley Heights said she celebrated being called seventh with family and friends Monday after a three-year search for an affordable apartment with more space than the studio she currently shares with her two young sons. By Tuesday night, her cheers turned into tears.

“I needed this chance at a better life for me and my children,” she said. “I didn’t do anything wrong and now this opportunity might be taken away from me.” 

Construction at Vineyard View, which was developed by Conifer Realty working with the Community Development Corporation of Long Island, is in the late stages along Route 48 in Greenport.

There are 14 one-bedroom apartments available, 22 two-bedroom units and 14 three-bedroom units. There are two income-based price points for the units and in order to qualify for the New York State of Opportunity project an applicant cannot make more than 60% of the area median income for Suffolk County. The rental prices and income limits also vary based on how many people would live in each unit. On the lowest end, a one-bedroom will cost $1,056 per month to rent, and three-bedroom units cap out at $1,784 a month, according to materials shared on the Conifer Realty website.

The community will feature a fitness center, clubhouse and playground for the residents of its 50 units.

Mr. Noncarrow said that, after the drawing, applicants are notified individually by the company of their place on the list and that, he believed, due to privacy concerns, the official list is not published. 

For Ms. Salmon and the hundreds of others who applied it’s now a matter of wait-and-see to find out exactly who will get the first chance to live there.

“I guess they’re gonna figure it out,” she said. “I’m pretty mad about it, though. Especially knowing there were a lot of people way up-island who were included and it looks like a dozen or more locals were left out.”

Ms. Hubbard said it goes to show “they need a whole lot more [affordable housing] out here.”

In its statement, Conifer Realty said anyone with concerns should contact Kelly Shields at 631-315-9677 or via email at [email protected].

Editor’s Note: In the interest of public service to affected local residents, The Suffolk Times is publishing this story free for non-subscribers. Anyone interested in a subscription, can sign up here.