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Town Board majority supports affordable housing proposal in Cutchogue

Most of the Southold Town Board supports moving forward with the Cut­ch­ogue Woods affordable housing project so far. 

Supervisor Scott Russell was the lone dissenter, voicing worries that locals would be shut out of the apartments during the lottery selection. The Town Board plans to continue preliminary discussions with the developers at future meetings.

Longtime Southold resident Rona Smith, who purchased land for the project, established Housing Initiatives LLC and teamed up with affordable housing developer Georgica Green Ventures to build 24 townhouse-style apartments on the Route 48, Cut­ch­ogue, parcel. GGV has developed several affordable housing complexes on the East End and across Long Island, including in Riverhead and Southampton. 

Ms. Smith, who has been involved in local government and housing for more than 20 years, presented her proposal to the Town Board at a Tuesday work session with representatives from GGV. She emphasized that the current proposal is conceptual and she was seeking feedback from the Town Board. 

She clarified that the units will only be for rent, not rent-to-buy. “That was my original idea. I wanted to have rent-to-buy. The problem is, the more I explored it the more I realized there’s no funding for that,” she said.

Ms. Smith also acknowledged that the proposed development is not located in a Hamlet Locus, or HALO, zone and pointed out that most jobs on the North Fork require some sort of transportation, making walkability less of a necessity. 

“The parcel seemed to me to be particularly good because it’s not going to make people upset about their neighborhood, their housing values,” she said, even though “there are definitely studies that show affordable housing does not affect housing resale values.”

She emphasized a commitment to sustainable housing. The developers plan to use prefabricated units to avoid clearing as many trees as possible. 

The project proposal describes income qualifications as “project affordability tiers between 60-100% Area Median Income.” Ms. Smith clarified during the meeting that the project will use the Nassau-Suffolk AMI, which is higher than the AMI in Southold Town.

Mr. Russell argued that a 60% threshold would disqualify a lot of Southold residents “out of the gate” and pointed out that the regional lottery to select residents for the apartment complex could not be limited to local applicants. Because the project would partially rely on outside funding, the developers must conform with regulations on resident qualifications. He said not many locals were selected for the Vineyard View affordable housing complex.

“I think there are a couple of differences. Obviously you can’t build a wall to keep people out,” Ms. Smith said, pointing out that the Vineyard View developer had also set a lower AMI qualification. “In my discussions with David [Gallo of GGV] about their experience in East Hampton and Southampton is that they have attracted about 75% local residents who live in their developments and essentially they were held to the same laws, the same standards.”

Allison Giosa of GGV clarified that the developers will set different tiers within the AMI range to make sure “we have different tiers that bring different occupations and different people into the building.” The project is subject to funding availability and requirements, she said.

“A typical deal like this can bring between five and seven sources of funding to the table, all with different requirements,” she said. “Obviously that’s a juggling act that we’ll be doing on our end of the table in coordination with you as well.”

She added that 86% of an initial lease of a 37-unit complex in the Town of East Hampton were local. “We see a very strong, local lease-up, especially on the East End of Long Island,” she said.

Ms. Smith added that while she understands the concern about local leasing, it’s impossible to know ahead of time how the lottery will play out. 

“I think the fact that Georgica is putting this number on paper is not the same thing as saying that that’s what they expect. This is what they’ve achieved, not what they expect, and my personal belief is that it’s partially the force of marketing west of these areas,” she said. “There’s a certain amount of outreach that has to happen in terms of marketing, but I think that perhaps, Conifer [Realty] reached a little too hard.”

Mr. Russell said the town needs apartments to keep residents and clarified that he’s not suggesting keeping people out. 

“It’s very hard for me to tell this community of residents that are dying for affordable housing that we’re sorry, we’re going to build this, but we can’t really guarantee you’re going to get any of it, or anybody you know is going to get any of it,” he said. 

Town Board member Sarah Nappa argued that if the development isn’t built at all, then there’s a zero percent chance for Southold residents to get a spot.

“We need to look at affordable housing in the town as a whole and we’re trying to find different projects where we can do different things, and not every single affordable housing project is going to be able to have a local list,” she said. 

Some will have local lists, and the town is looking into a few, she said, but the town needs to look at ways to give “people here a chance to stay because, guess what, they’re going to leave if there’s no chance.”

Ms. Smith questioned what the other options are. “How do you solve that problem? Do you not build it?”

Mr. Russell suggested focusing on self-funded developments.

Ms. Nappa argued that the town should work with multiple types of affordable housing developments. She pointed out that even if Vineyard View was not initially leased to mostly local residents, the people who do live there are now working in Southold, where there’s a chronic labor shortage. 

“You can’t punish one company for another company’s errors,” Town Board member Jill Doherty added.

Town Board member Greg Doroski said ignoring other types of projects leaves opportunities “on the table.” 

“I will agree with you that self-funded is preferred, but self-funded is not the only option. And we have a real need in this community, and there is an affordable housing crisis,” he said. “The number one concern of the business community here, number one across all sectors, is labor. There’s no place for people to live in this community. We can’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.”

Ms. Smith responded that many self-funded developments aim to make a profit on affordable rentals. The best ways for developers to make money is to build “smaller rooms, fewer amenities [and] lower standards of finish,” she said.

“This is looking to do the very best we can do with the funding sources that we can identify. That’s it. This is not a way to get rich,” she added.

Mr. Russell responded that nobody gets rich on affordable housing. 

GGV developer David Gallo said the target is to sell most units to applicants with 60% AMI, with the rest allocated for higher incomes, to facilitate a mixed income project. He said the project can adjust a unit or two, but not significantly change target numbers. 

Traditionally, GGV emphasizes local marketing to make sure the community knows about the project, he said. 

Ms. Smith suggested that maybe self-funded developments in town could concentrate on higher-income tiers, to circumvent the issue “so that we do serve as many of the levels of income in the town as possible.”

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