East End YIMBY To Rally On Saturday For More Affordable Housing

Bryony Freij and Michael Daly, organizers behind the East End YIMBY rally for affordable housing on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor on Saturday.

Housing is a basic human necessity. But on the East End, housing is fast becoming a luxury reserved for the privileged few.

As many people are forced to pack up and head west and commute longer to get to their jobs on the East End, others are leaving the area entirely. For many, it feels as though the South Fork is losing many of the people who made the community what it is.

And many of those who are left are planning to rally this Saturday, December 4, to demand that affordable housing be made available on the East End.

“We can’t afford to lose the people who can’t afford to live here,” said Bryony Freij, a Sag Harbor resident and advocate with East End YIMBY, the coalition organizing Saturday’s rally. “What kind of community are we when those we rely on most — first responders, health care workers, social workers, teachers, small-business owners, young families, seniors — cannot afford to live here?”

Freij has been working with Michael Daly, the founder of East End YIMBY — which stands for “Yes, In My Backyard” — and other volunteers to make their voices heard at town board meetings in East Hampton and Southampton, to ensure that affordable housing purchases are a priority for the town.

“Safe, stable, affordable housing is the foundation of a healthy life and a healthy community,” Daly said. “EEYIMBY’s goal is to advocate for a diverse year-round community of people who can afford to live, work and thrive here.”

The rally on Saturday hopes to bring together the diverse communities that are affected by the lack of affordable housing, a crisis that impacts more than the people who cannot find housing. Even the very wealthy find their lives are affected when staffing shortages lead to businesses failing, simply because there aren’t enough employees who can afford to live in the area, or when traffic is backed up for hours on Montauk Highway because everyone is heading west at once.

But most importantly, it’s about the people who belong here who simply can’t afford to be here anymore, say members of YIMBY. It’s the people who grew up here, who want to raise their kids here, or the people who have been investing in the community for decades and now find themselves facing housing insecurity.

Brandon Albert grew up in East Hampton, and it never occurred to him that he’d want to raise his own kids somewhere else. In fact, he had been living in Florida when he and his partner learned they were expecting their first child, and they immediately knew they had to come home.

Home — what is home? For Albert, it’s always been East Hampton.

“East Hampton is my home. Growing up here was amazing,” he said. “It was a community. There were always kids playing together — we had the freedom to ride our bikes to the beach.”

His parents were blue collar workers — his mom was a bus driver and custodian, and his dad worked for an asphalt company. There were certain luxuries they couldn’t afford, like expensive sports camps. But Albert never felt poor — he had everything he needed, he said, because he lived in this wonderful town with a supportive community and natural beauty and parks and libraries and beaches. It was enough.

When Albert and his family got back, ready to start their lives in the town they grew up in, they started looking for a home, but nothing was available. They stayed with family for a while, then hopped from one overpriced rental to another, until they found their current living situation: a basement apartment in Quogue.

Albert got a job working six days a week at Napa Auto Parts in Bridgehampton. His partner, Robin, got part-time work as well, but with two kids under the age of 3, childcare costs are prohibitive.

“I work full time,” Albert said. “How hard and how many hours does somebody have to work to be able to live comfortably here?”

Jeff Marshall knows the feeling. When he first pulled onto Meadowlark Lane in Sag Harbor 22 years ago, he felt like he had come home. The quiet dead-end street lined with small homes that housed a good portion of the fire department was the definition of small-town living. From his basement apartment, he could walk to Main Street in Sag Harbor.

“No matter how tough things got for me personally, and I truly genuinely mean this, I was always glad to come home,” Marshall said. “I loved turning up that street and going to that little basement apartment. It was always warm in the winter and cool in the summer. And you had your neighbors. I worked nights and worked other jobs during the day, but I knew them: Mr. Cilli, and the Horns, and the other Horns, and Mrs. Girren.”

His partner, Leslie, moved in with him, and they got a dog, and soon they had become a part of the block. Marshall worked full time in the information technology department at the hospital, and Leslie is manager of a boutique in East Hampton. Marshall also plays bass for Inda Eaton, one of the East End’s most celebrated local musicians.

“We are just local people,” Marshall said. “I’m an average person with an average job, and I’ve been there a long time doing the work, day to day. We make good money, and we’ve wanted to buy a house for years. But there’s nothing to buy.”

As residents and advocates come together on Saturday to demand better, they’ll be chanting with one voice, say organizers, who will also find support from other local nonprofits in this endeavor. Representatives from PEER, OLA of Eastern Long Island, Housing Help and CMEE are expected to join the East End YIMBY rally, intended to be a family-friendly event with live music, kids’ activities, and hot cocoa.

The rally will take place in Saturday, December 4, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at John A. Ward Memorial Windmill next to Long Wharf in Sag Harbor.