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Oct 7, 2015 10:56 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town Steps Up Efforts On Workforce Housing

Oct 7, 2015 10:56 AM

Curtis Highsmith of the Southampton Town Housing Authority says he hopes to completely alter the conversation about the future of housing for working-class families.

As executive director of the organization, Mr. Highsmith said he wants people to stop viewing housing projects as “affordable housing.” Instead, he wants to place the emphasis on “workforce housing,” highlighting the chance for people who have worked their entire lives to be able to stay on the East End. Mr. Highsmith also hopes to help provide housing for young professionals seeking to live independently.

To that end, the housing authority is working on several projects, including a soon-to-be-proposed workforce housing development in Speonk that could add dozens of rental units to the market.

“I want to change the narrative,” Mr. Highsmith said last week. “We need workforce housing, because we have a tremendous workforce within our communities and hamlets. I don’t subscribe to the notion that because we are in the Hamptons that everything has to be Hamptons—I don’t think that is fair.”

The goal, he said, is to make local housing affordable so that people who grew up here can stay in Southampton instead of moving west, where the cost of living is lower.

“I think there are a lot of talented individuals and families who are forced out of their own homes—homes they have grown in for years, homes they were raised in, that they went to school in, and that they were able to be active contributors to the community in—and now someone else is benefiting from that talent,” Mr. Highsmith said.

One of the biggest projects on the horizon is the proposed workforce housing development on North Phillips Avenue in Speonk. The approximately 4.4-acre property, which is known by locals as “the castle property,” has been discussed for several years as a potential site for this type of development. In 2012, property owner Jay Kopf started presenting the idea for a 68 one-bedroom and studio apartment complex to local citizens groups. The project might go through as a planned development district, which would involve a special change of zone if deemed to benefit the community.

This week, Mr. Kopf referred all questions about the project to David Gallo of Georgica Green Ventures LLC of Jericho, the developer who will handle the project. Mr. Gallo was not immediately available for comment on Monday.

According to Mr. Highsmith, who has been working with Mr. Kopf and Mr. Gallo, the pre-application for the proposal is ready to go and will be pitched to the Southampton Town Board for initial review in the next few weeks. He added that it is possible the project would not be pitched as a PDD, but he said that a PDD will require more review by the town than a zone change would.

“We don’t want to just throw something to the community and add a log on top of a fire,” Mr. Highsmith said. “Let’s figure out together how we can strategically move forward.”

Mr. Highsmith will speak to members of the Citizens Advisory Committee-West later this fall to answer questions about the project.

Another project Mr. Highsmith hopes to see move forward is the Sandy Hollow Cove apartment complex in Tuckahoe, which is presently stalled because of litigation between neighbors and the town. The project, another collaboration between the housing authority and Georgica Green, calls for 28 studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments for middle-income tenants. The project was approved by Southampton Town in July 2014, but five neighbors filed a suit in October of that year.

Mr. Highsmith said the housing authority is always looking for potential places for workforce housing—he meets with members of the Town Board and the Land Management Division on a monthly basis—but that does not mean much without a reliable way to match potential candidates with any of the 100 homes the housing authority currently has.

When the town acquires an affordable housing property, and then sells the home at an affordable rate, the difference between the purchase price and the market value is noted as the “buyer benefit.” A homeowner will pay taxes based on an adjusted affordable housing assessment, not the full assessed value of the property.

However, when the owner eventually sells the house, the town—which has jurisdiction over all affordable housing units—will have the first right of refusal, and if the town does not wish to purchase the home outright, it has 90 days to find an eligible affordable housing-qualified buyer.

But that short time frame was leaving the town at a loss without a reliable system for placing homeowners with homes. The problem grew exponentially in the last few years as some of the original affordable housing units were put up for sale either because the owner no longer wanted the property, or because the owner died.

“There really wasn’t anything in play to adhere to or satisfy the requirements of these buyer benefit homes,” Mr. Highsmith said. “So we started discussing a mechanism to have a waiting list for the area.”

The new list has separate lists for homes to be sold, rental properties and senior housing, and candidates will be able to view their rank on the list on the town website.

Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said viable workforce housing is a key focus of the town, and that the new waiting list is a step in the right direction. Applications for the list can be filed online at southamptontownny.gov, or by calling (631) 488-4220, ext. 205.

“This invitation is an effort to keep our waiting list active and up to date, recognizing that the availability of affordable units is intermittent,” Ms. Throne-Holst said in a release. “When these opportunities occur, we look to the waiting list to fill these units as soon as possible—so if you are interested, be sure to register.”

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How about the Park Ave. Trailer Park that is in foreclosure in Eastport? The land needs to be developed badly. Eastport/Speonk could benefit greatly from development to help with the extremely high school taxes!
By Mouthampton (439), Southampton on Oct 7, 15 12:35 PM
Yes, Eastport needs development to help with the extremely high taxes but, you know it will be single parents with multiple kids. Therefore in the end an increase in school taxes for all of us.
By lifesaver (118), speonk on Oct 8, 15 1:20 PM
Hampton Bays, Flanders, and North Sea have plenty of houses under 400k. We dont need to use govt resources to integrate people into neighborhood they can't afford. Socialism has never worked
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Oct 9, 15 7:08 PM
Socialism doesn't work, but Classism is reasonable and acceptable. I guess as long as we do not allow "integration", and everyone remains in their place, the world will be much better. Sound so familiar.
By CommunityMinded (20), Southampton on Oct 13, 15 1:19 PM
2 members liked this comment
No chance. The school can't handle a rapid increase in numbers.
By double standard (1506), Remsenburg on Oct 18, 15 11:41 AM
The Town has no business getting involved in "affordable " housing. Let the free market take care of it. One lives where one can afford to live-PERIOD!
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Oct 18, 15 2:29 PM
This project would destroy Speonk / Remsenburg. The school will be overwhelmed. Property values will plummet. Quality of life will diminish. "Workforce housing" is code for cheap rent. You think it's fair to the family that just plunked down 3 million to live in Rems to force 60 units of low rent apartments into their town? As I stated above. No chance. Trust me, if they move forward with this there will be significant and sustained push back.
By double standard (1506), Remsenburg on Oct 20, 15 9:27 AM
And finally, I live on South Country Rd. This area is known for it's quiet charm and tight community. I'll be taking my dog for a walk this weekend and chatting about this project with every neighbor I see. Curious to get their reactions. My advice to the developer is don't waste your time.
By double standard (1506), Remsenburg on Oct 20, 15 9:36 AM
Apparently RSE hasn't been involved in the discussion. 69 units could yield an awful lot of new kids into the district. I don't see how the school could handle it.
By Craigcat (258), Speonk on Oct 28, 15 4:17 PM
Who said anything about 60 + units?
This project will not be 60 units.
By CEHJR (34), Southampton on Oct 29, 15 2:38 PM
Please see paragraph 7 of the article.
By Craigcat (258), Speonk on Oct 29, 15 4:29 PM
The 68 units was the original proposal in 2012 by the prior developer, Jay Kopf. He is no longer attached to this project. In the current proposal the number of units has been drastically reduced by the Southampton Housing Authority and co-developer.
By jkkhum (2), Hampton Bays on Oct 30, 15 10:55 AM
1 member liked this comment
Any idea of many units are now being proposed? Thank you.
By Craigcat (258), Speonk on Oct 30, 15 1:18 PM
68 Units was a prior plan in 2012 by another developer. There will be an informational gathering soon to discuss the project. If any are interested in attending, email the Housing Authority to add your name to the invitation list. Too much misinformation being shared.
By CEHJR (34), Southampton on Oct 30, 15 11:22 AM
1 member liked this comment
Knowing the amount of units proposed would be helpful. "drastically reduced" is rather vague. We have a community page and this has been the #1 topic. The main questions being: How many units? What is the maximum occupancy per unit? Misinformation snowballs, so I'd like to clear it up asap. Thank you
By Craigcat (258), Speonk on Oct 30, 15 4:34 PM