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Trustee says village must think ‘outside the box’ to address housing concerns

An unprecedented housing market boom fueled by the second home market on the North Fork is leading some local officials to renew calls for affordable housing.

“There’s a housing crisis,” Greenport Village Trustee Julia Robins said during a work session Thursday, noting that purchasing homes has become cost-prohibitive and affordable year-round rentals are disappearing for those who live and work locally. “Many business owners are desperately looking for housing for their employees.”

While the real estate market hit somewhat of a slump in the first half of last year as the coronavirus spread, new reports show it bounced back in the summer. According to the Third Quarter 2020 Residential Market Report for the Hamptons and North Fork from Brown Harris Stevens, the average home sale price on the North Fork increased 17% to $715,485, the highest third quarter average price in more than five years.

During Thursday’s discussion, Ms. Robins called for assembling a panel to address housing in the village and said it’s time to think “outside the box.”

In the fall, village mayor George Hubbard Jr. pitched an idea to modify the village code to allow accessory apartments in residential areas in order to help meet the growing need.

In addition, Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) recently reintroduced legislation in Albany that would allow the five East End towns to establish a Town Community Housing Fund. Under the legislation, the funds would be financed from a .5 percent real estate transfer tax modeled after the Community Preservation Fund, and would only be established after a mandatory referendum in each town.

In 2019, Mr. Thiele introduced similar legislation that passed in both houses of the state legislature but was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Mr. Thiele said he will continue to work closely with the governor to address concerns noted in his veto message.

In a statement, Mr. Thiele said the pandemic has exacerbated the housing crisis on the East End.

“Local employers have difficulty hiring and retaining employees because of housing costs and availability. Local volunteer emergency services are experiencing difficulty in recruitment and retention. Long-time residents are forced to leave the area” he said. “This has all been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is driving up the second home real estate market on the East End.”

While Ms. Robins pointed out that the village doesn’t necessarily have the space to construct affordable housing, its sewer plant offers possibilities for creative solutions for more dense housing.

“It’s imperative that we look into this,” Ms. Robins said. “If we don’t do anything about this we will not have a community here…this is one of the big issues of our day.”

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