Housing Trust Finds Mandate Is A Tough Task to Fulfill

A rendering of the proposed low-cost housing project on Route 114, just outside the Village of Sag Harbor.

By Stephen J. Kotz

Nearly four years ago, the Sag Harbor Community Housing Trust, which was established in 2008 and directed to invest the $2.5 million received from the developers of the Watchcase condominiums for affordable housing, announced that it had purchased The Cottages, a small complex of low-cost housing on Route 114 for $1.25 million.

Today, the trust is still waiting for additional funding it needs so it can move forward with plans to raze the existing buildings on the 2.5-acre parcel and replace them with eight modular, energy-efficient units.

Rob Calvert, one of the trust’s directors, said the group was hoping to learn by April whether it had received $1 million from New York State Community and Housing Renewal, which distributes state funds for such projects.  “There is competition county by county for those funds,” he said.  “We are even competing against the East Hampton Town Housing Authority.”

A rendering of a garden view at one of the proposed cottages.

If that money does not come through, Mr. Calvert said the trust “is looking at scenarios to fund the project even if we don’t get the money from the state.”

The time involved and the red tape that must be cut through have combined to frustrate the members of the all-volunteer trust, Mr. Calvert said. “At this snail’s pace, we are not making up for the continuing loss of affordable housing,” he lamented.

Another holdup in the project is the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, which must grant sanitary permits for septic flow. “They have been a bear, and inexplicably so,” said Mr. Calvert, adding that the trust is thankful that engineers working for it have discounted their fees.

Eyebrows were raised when the housing trust announced that its first project would be outside the village and in the neighboring Wainscott School District, but the group has pointed to a lack of suitable sites in the village.

“We have five times the density of East Hampton and we have a fraction of the land,” said Mr. Calvert.

As to objections from the Wainscott School District that the development would increase its population, Mr. Calvert said it was unlikely the development would increase the number of children attending school there because the units proposed would only have one bedroom. He suggested that if the matter became a sticking point, perhaps The Cottages property and any land north that is also in the Wainscott School District could be transferred to the Sag Harbor School District.

Despite the frustrating pace of the development, Mr. Calvert said it is important to continue to press ahead with efforts to solve the East End’s need for affordable housing.

“Unless we figure out a way to accommodate — and it’s going to require some serious compromises —, we are facing the prospect of economic apartheid” as it becomes necessary to bring workers in from outside, he said. “You are already seeing the pressure on fire departments, on schools,” he said. “The problem will hollow out these communities.”