Second affordable housing lottery has heartbroken North Fork residents on the outside looking in

For Amber King and Ashley Santacroce, Vineyard View in Greenport represented new hope for affordable living in their hometown. 

With 50 units opening up, they were elated to hear their names called 19th and 38th in the July lottery for the sought-after rental apartments off Route 48.

On Tuesday, the two women had their hopes dashed. And they were not alone.

“I feel terrible for the local families that had high hopes for this new community and were looking forward to being able to raise their children close to their neighborhoods that are filled with family and friends.”

Sabrina Bucci

Due to “an administrative error” by a staff member at Conifer Realty that saw more than 50 applicants omitted from the first drawing, the lottery was redrawn Tuesday and almost every person called early on during the initial event found themselves on the outside looking in this time around.

“I was very hopeful that I may have been lucky a second time around, but unfortunately that chance was taken from me,” said Ms. King of Orient, who dropped from 19th in the scrapped lottery to No. 504 in the official one.

While just 315 people applied before the initial deadline, Vineyard View recently decided to open the application process back up, expanding the number of names entered into the raffle drum to 535. For nearly 90 minutes on Tuesday, hopeful applicants pursuing this rare opportunity in the Town of Southold watched on Facebook Live as each of their names were called to establish a priority order for housing and the initial waiting list as apartments open back up in the years to come. For Dot Moore of Greenport, who was called first among the 535 candidates, the opportunity is real. For Orleatra Banks of Riverhead, the last name called Tuesday, the wait would be a long one.

Ms. Banks said she applied early on in the process and was called much sooner in the initial lottery. To have the process opened back up to more people and fall all the way to 535 was devastating. She likened it to a retailer restarting a sale because someone didn’t know about it the first time around. Others agreed.

“I just don’t feel it’s right the way they went about it,” said Ms. Santacroce of East Marion, who heard more than 200 names Tuesday before her own was called.

Ms. Santacroce, 29, has a 10-year-old son and Ms. King, 32, has a 9-year-old girl.

For some, like Kara DiBella of Wheatley Heights, the drawing was too emotional to watch all the way through. She was No. 7 in the initial lottery but shut the live feed off after about 100 applicants were called before her Tuesday. She’ll now await contact from Conifer Realty, which developed the project along with the Community Development Corporation of Long Island, to see exactly how far down she slipped.

“Any hope I had today at giving my kids a better life and better opportunities was taken away,” she said Tuesday afternoon.

Even for some of the applicants left out of the first drawing, Tuesday brought about more disappointment.

Tiffany and Kevin Smith of Greenport were among the 50 excluded in July and on Tuesday the parents of three young children waited for more than 230 names to be called before theirs. Jessica Terry of Orient said she was called around 280.

Lifelong East End resident Sabrina Bucci, who also dropped about 200 spots after initially being selected near the top 50, said the apartments had represented for her the opportunity to continue to live and work in her hometown.

“I feel terrible for the local families that had high hopes for this new community and were looking forward to being able to raise their children close to their neighborhoods that are filled with family and friends,” she said.

Ms. Santacroce said she was also particularly disappointed for the local families that went from likely to unlikely between the two drawings. Opening the application process back up to include more candidates makes it even tougher for her to digest.

“They should know how to handle these things,” Ms. Santacroce said of Conifer. “They had ample time from when they started building this community to get it right. There’s no excuse.”

Robert Lampher, executive vice president of portfolio management at Conifer Realty, said last month that the enrollment period was reopened 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.

Conifer representatives opened Tuesday’s live feed, which had to be restarted before the first name was called due to technical difficulties, with an apology for the mistake made in July.

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.