East Hampton Finds A Learning Curve In Keeping Houses Affordable

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In addition to Camp Hero, East Hampton Town has spearheaded other affordable home ownership projects over the past 40 years.

The first was Olympic Heights by Three Mile Harbor in Springs. The town sold 14 half-acre lots and buyers were able to build their own home. Over a period of time, they had to pay back 75 percent of the land value to the town, according to Tom Ruhle, East Hampton Town’s housing director.

After Camp Hero, the town unveiled Whalebone Woods in East Hampton in the 1980s, which operated with income restrictions similar to those for the houses at Camp Hero. At the time, the town kept a 60-percent interest in the ownership of the land. However, according to Mr. Ruhle, that was still not enough to keep the homes affordable going forward, given the boom in property value.

With this, and the Camp Hero restrictions in mind, the town shifted toward land-lease programs in an effort to keep homes in the affordable housing range. The Green Hollow development in East Hampton was the first of this kind, according to East Hampton Town attorney John Jilnicki, who explained that, under a land lease, the buyer owns the house but the town owns the land.

“It’s been pretty effective because we’ve had houses there turn over, and we’re still keeping in the program,” said Mr. Jilnicki. The leases at the Green Hollow development are for 99 years. “For all intents and purposes it’s a lifelong lease. It wasn’t supposed to be … a one-time situation where you buy the house affordably and then sell it fair-market value,” he said. “You certainly wanted to keep the houses in the program.”

Mr. Jilnicki said as part of the long-term lease, owners can recover certain costs for improvements made to the house, thus increasing its value, and sell it to others within the affordable housing system.

“It fosters people moving onto bigger and better properties and making that available to someone else to start out on,” he said.

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