Sag Harbor Housing Trust Up And Running

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With a newly minted board and some tweaking to the village code, the members of the Sag Harbor Community Housing Trust have set out on a not-so-new adventure.

Retracing steps taken five years ago by their predecessors, the trust’s board members are seeking input from experts and everyday people to increase the supply of affordable housing in the Sag Harbor School District.

Established in 2008, the housing trust is a 501(C)(3) not-for-profit organization independent of the village government.

It was created while the village was reviewing the plans for the Watchcase condominiums. During that time, the Suffolk County Planning Commission handed down a mandate that large-scale projects must reserve 20 percent of their units as affordable workforce housing.

Eventually, both the village and the developers, Manhattan-based Cape Advisors, agreed on a $2.5 million payout instead. It was to be paid in installments, as individual condo units were sold, to help pay for affordable housing elsewhere.

According to the founder of the trust, former mayor and current Planning Board member Greg Ferraris, “The trust provided flexibility and quicker access to funds for qualified residents, as opposed to the red tape local governments often have to wade through.”

“This way, we could avoid bureaucracy and get out there and help people,” he said of the nine-member board, which includes Cape Advisors partner David Kronman, Zoning Board of Appeals member Tim McGuire, local real estate agent Stacy Pennebaker, Planning Board Chairman Neil Slevin, former North Haven Village Mayor Jack Reiser, attorney Ed Reale and two residents, Robert Calvert and Mary Lynn Hess.

Mr. Ferraris went on to say the lack of ties to government also allows the trust to emphasize certain qualifying criteria for candidates that otherwise would not be allowed, such as volunteering in the community or providing some sort of service that would hamper their ability to earn income.

Last week, at a Village Board meeting, a new local law was finally introduced that will officially allow the village to funnel any workforce housing money it receives from development projects into the trust. Presently, the funds would be transfered to Southampton or East Hampton town, or to the Long Island Housing Partnership, with no guarantee that the affordable housing would be created in the Sag Harbor School District.

According to Mayor Brian Gilbride, all the money generated by the Watchcase condominiums and future projects as a result of the affordable housing mandate, will go to the trust alone.

“This is a great project that has been worked on by a few mayors and, hopefully, we can see some results here soon,” he said at last week’s meeting.

As a first step in the brainstorming process, the new board is tasked with finding the most efficient way to spend the $2.5 million coming to it from Cape Advisors. The options might include using funds to purchase real estate for use as affordable housing, as leverage for mortgages for some homebuyers, or as grants to help make existing housing more affordable.

As part of their assessment of current needs, board members will poll local civic organizations as well as the local workforce and try to come up with solutions before the end of spring—just in time for the first expected closing on a Watchcase condo this summer.

“The goal is to find it within the Sag Harbor School District, but there isn’t a lot of room for a dense apartment complex,” said Mr. Kronman. “We’re open to some different ideas, but our last needs assessment was done five years ago. We need to update it before the money starts coming in. We’ve established our subcommittees to focus on financing, demographics and outreach, we’ll complete our study and we’ll leverage the money with lending institutions to best position us to help the maximum number of people.”

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