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Conifer Realty faces concerned Southold Town Board to explain Vineyard View gaffe supervisor calls ‘inexcusable’

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An official at Conifer Realty revealed Tuesday that more applicants were left out of the company’s affordable housing lottery for its new Vineyard View apartments than there are units to rent at the Greenport complex.

Robert Lampher, executive vice president of portfolio management at Conifer, admitted the “administrative misplacement” that forced the company to call for a new drawing excluded “north of 50” individuals seeking the rare opportunity for an affordable rental in Southold Town.

“We sincerely apologize and are deeply regretful for the situation,” Mr. Lampher told concerned Southold Town Board members after being invited to explain the gaffe at Tuesday morning’s work session. “The initial error that led to the need to redo the lottery, we own that entirely and we certainly take responsibility for that.”

The discussion with town officials came just five days after the developers announced in the final hour that they were postponing a second lottery to allow time for more people to apply for the chance to secure one of the units off Route 48. While officials haven’t said when that new date would be, Mr. Lampher said the delay was necessary in order for the company to fairly address a “community perception that the lottery may not have included everybody that it should [have.]” He said they consulted with a state oversight agency before making that decision. In a message announcing the postponement of the second lottery, the group said it will use the next two weeks or more to work on the following:

• Providing a clearer and more specific instructions regarding where to submit completed applications to minimize any confusion.

• Allowing all interested applicants ample time to apply.

• Assuring  all prior lottery participants that they will continue to be included and eligible for the new lottery when conducted.

• Offering easier and more direct access to both English and Spanish applications.

Conifer’s explanation of its missteps did not go over well with Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell and other board members, who questioned the fairness in the process. Mr. Russell took exception to Mr. Lampher’s comment that he “hopes everyone can understand it was an accidental situation.”

“I can tell you right now there are a lot of people whose names were picked out of a lottery who certainly can’t understand,” the supervisor shot back. “They were picked out of a drum. They were picked out of order. Then their anticipation was to have the new lottery, only to push that off. The level of frustration, the level of anger and the number of people who are upset over it, frankly I find it inexcusable. It’s inexcusable by any measure … this is what you do. This is your specialty and the specialty was a complete failure the first two times. Let’s see how it goes next time.”

Gwen O’Shea, president and CEO of the Community Development Corporation of Long Island, Conifer’s partner on the project, said, “That’s part of the reason we’re taking a step back.” 

“We’re making sure we dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t,’ she said. 

Councilman Bob Ghosio said he finds it particularly unfair to all of the people who met the initial application deadline — the town previously said 315 people applied — to now have to contend with even more names in a lottery where only 50 people will ultimately make it into an apartment on the first go-round. Mr. Russell said the economic impacts of COVID-19 also increased the need for affordable housing, which could lead to “twice as many applications.”

“If I’m one of the original people who was selected [early] in the original lottery and now you’re accepting more applications, the odds are now further against me,” Mr. Ghosio said. “I don’t know if that’s quite fair.”

Town Board member Louisa Evans noted that the original process was unfair to the applicants who were left out of the drum and there is no simple fix. Mr. Russell also said it should be known that the developer could have built expensive single-family homes on the property and should be commended for instead opting to construct affordale rentals.

Construction at Vineyard View is in the late stages along Route 48 in Greenport and residents are expected to move in come fall. The individuals further down on the list, once the first 50 residents who qualify move in, will make up the initial waitlist for the development.

Vineyard View has 14 one-bedroom apartments, 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 rent for  $1,056 per month, 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.

Conifer Realty said if any applicants have additional questions to contact Kelly Shields at 631-315-9677 or via email at [email protected].