Editorial: Vineyard View debacle underscores need for affordable housing

The emails arrived quickly after the Vineyard View affordable housing lottery last week. They expressed confusion, frustration and heartbreak.

It was not at all what you might have expected following the first drawing of this kind in 15 years in Southold Town, where joy, elation and gratitude were the anticipated emotions.

Instead, when it was learned that the names of an undisclosed number of applicants were left out of the raffle drum, believed to be in the dozens, a do-over was scheduled for today, Thursday.

While that gives some relief to those who were unfairly denied a chance to have their name called last Monday, it means many others who believed they had likely secured a spot in the rental complex will have their hopes dashed. With 50 units and more than 300 applicants, that’s the harsh, yet unavoidable, reality.

In any lottery, it’s considered good luck if you win. In this one, where the integrity of the entire process has been cast in doubt, everyone loses in some respect. While a handful of applicants may have the luck of the draw on their side once again Thursday, many more will see their coveted spots slip away, lay claim to what briefly belonged to someone else, or learn that they are on the outside looking in for the second time.

While the alliterative phrase often used to describe the process that led to this debacle ends with the word “show,” it appears to be the result of human error by an employee of the developer and not some sort of nefarious plot. Ineptitude? Perhaps. Corruption? Certainly not.

It’s natural to be skeptical when these kind of mistakes occur and better oversight appears necessary, but there’s a more important lesson to be learned from the situation. It underscores that our town, county — and, really, all of Long Island — are in desperate need of more affordable housing. And rentals are just as needed as home ownership opportunities.

When The Cottages were built in Mattituck in 2005, 125 applicants entered the lottery for the opportunity to own their first home. This current lottery included more than three times as many candidates — from all across Suffolk.

The most reasonable way for Long Island to solve its housing crisis — though it’s likely it never will — is for each town to work with builders to create a steady flow of projects providing affordable rental and ownership opportunities. Fifteen years is simply too long to wait between affordable developments of significance.

Despite what happened last week, Vineyard View will soon see its first set of residents move in. Over 250 additional applicants — and many more who didn’t apply — will still be in need of help to find housing. They’re our sons and daughters, our moms and dads. This population doesn’t just include our residents most in need. It’s a large portion of our workforce and our retired neighbors who need help finding the next reasonable place to live.

Southold needs to ask itself what comes next. The time to get working on the next possible solution is now. This issue is simply too important to be anywhere else but on the front burner.