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Town could expand priority list on affordable housing registry

The COVID-19 pandemic has Southold officials considering expanding a policy to prioritize certain segments of the workforce on its affordable housing registry.

Last fall, the board approved a policy to give priority status on the town’s housing list to volunteer firefighters and EMTs, citing challenges with recruiting and retaining young members due to a lack of affordable housing.

At a work session Tuesday, Supervisor Scott Russell floated the idea of moving health care workers up on the priority list as well.

“With recent events raising awareness and discussions in the past,” he said. “People like [Peconic Landing CEO Bob Syron] and others have always talked about the struggles of particularly the employees that are a little lower paid on the scale.”

Councilwoman Jill Doherty asked the board to consider the term health care workers to apply to support staff at local facilities, including aides, kitchen and custodial staff.

“All of those workers would need to be included. I think it’s a good idea,” she said.

Some town board members supported leaving the definition of health care workers broad in order to capture a variety of those professions.

“I prefer not to pigeon hole ourselves,” said Councilman Jim Dinizio, since income will dictate eligibility anyway.

But Mr. Russell cautioned against leaving it too broad, since a parallel goal of the idea is attracting specialized skill sets to the area.

He used LPNs and receptionists as an example. “[As a receptionist,] you’re not making a lot of money, but that’s a position that’s not as difficult to fill,” he said. “There’s not a dearth of those in the town.”

Officials, who plan to seek legal advice from the town attorney before proceeding, may consider a similar requirement in place for first responders, who must be in good standing with their departments and intend to continue volunteering.

Councilwoman Sarah Nappa said that while she supports the measure, such policies are somewhat meaningless without tangible housing opportunities. “The bottom line is that we do need more affordable housing,” she said.

Mr. Dinizio said the upcoming lottery for Vineyard View will be an indicator of the need. “We’ll find out pretty soon,” he said.

Applications are now being accepted for placement in Vineyard View, a 50-unit affordable complex that’s nearing completion in Greenport.

First responders will not be prioritized for those units, the supervisor said, since the property is not part of the town’s affordable housing district and already had higher-density zoning in place. In April, the town board hired a special consultant to advise them on how to best implement its plan to prioritize volunteer first responders in the housing initiative.

Denis Noncarrow, the town’s government liaison officer, said Wednesday that the developer Conifer Realty has already received well over 200 applications. The deadline to apply is July 9 and a virtual lottery drawing for one, two and three-bedroom units is scheduled for Monday, July 27 at 11 a.m. More information and an application for Vineyard View here.