On Christmas morning Autumn Marie Williams will wake up for the first time in her own bedroom and head out to the living room to open up presents under a tree that has been decorated since before Thanksgiving.
The 5-year-old and her mom, Natalya Flythe, are among the first residents of the Vineyard View affordable apartments in Greenport. As a result, they’re experiencing a lot of firsts together this holiday season.
“I never cooked before,” said the 22-year-old Ms. Flythe, one of an eventual 50 tenants of the Greenport rental community. “I never had to clean a whole house before.“
For Ms. Flythe and others who will slowly move in over the coming weeks, the community represents a new opportunity: a place they can call their own, that they can afford, and in many cases, that was built in their hometown.
Ms. Flythe is a 2017 graduate of Greenport High School, where her daughter was able to watch as she walked across the stage to receive her diploma. Since graduating, she’s been employed at the nearby Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital and is working toward a nursing degree from Suffolk County Community College. At the same time, she’s doing virtual learning with Autumn, a kindergarten student at Greenport Elementary.
Prior to moving into Vineyard View last month, Ms. Flythe and Autumn shared a bedroom in a house her mother, Sara, rents in Greenport. For Ms. Flythe, the biggest benefit of moving to Vineyard View is seeing her daughter have her own space.
“I just wanted her to be able to open up her own room, you know, be able to have everything to herself,” she said.
Harry Biechele was the first person to move into the apartments at Vineyard View, where he lives alone in a one-bedroom unit. While Ms. Flythe views her new living arrangements as a start to her independence, Mr. Biechele, 50, sees it as a hard reset.
“It’s a month today and it’s great,” the Greenport native said on Nov. 21. “I’m loving it.”
Mr. Biechele’s struggles to find housing are well documented, in past issues of this newspaper to a documentary about his life that played at the Hamptons International Take 2 Film Festival in 2012.
Back then, Mr. Biechele was living in a tent near a local cemetery. The documentary, directed by a friend who spent nearly six years filming Mr. Biechele, showed him grappling with addiction and reckoning with years of torment and bullying.
Most recently, Mr. Biechele was living in town with his mother and he said he’s been sober for a year. He’s also found steady work at North Fork Sanitation.
“I’m taking care of business, getting back on my feet,” he said.
For both Mr. Biechele and Ms. Flythe, the housing opportunity was an uncertain one. Ms. Flythe wasn’t sure she’d be accepted for a two-bedroom unit and she said she owes a debt of gratitude to Denis Noncarrow at Southold Town and CAST for helping her solidify it. A lottery gaffe that forced developers Conifer Realty to draw names a second time also placed everyone’s chances in doubt.
As other hopefuls failed to gain approvals or ultimately passed on the opportunity to rent there, both Ms. Flythe and Mr. Biechele, Nos. 137 and 200 in the lottery respectively, got the call.
“I went to Riverhead for the interview and a week later they called me up and asked if I wanted to move in,” Mr. Biechele said.
Mr. Biechele said he’s lived other places in his five decades, but has always been drawn right back to the village. As he settles into his new place, he’s doing so looking ahead and not dwelling on the pain of the past.
“I’ve lost everything from my car, my wife, my kids, my license. I lost my [former] job,” he said of past failures. “Now I’m getting right back on track.”
And in another building on the same Route 48 property, a young mom and her daughter are focused on a Christmas to call their own.
“She’s my only child, so to enjoy Christmas with just me and her and our own apartment, that’s all I ever really wanted to be honest,” Ms. Flythe said. “Yeah, it’s gonna be amazing.”