Pay Attention to Housing Needs
To the Editor,
Our Express put together an important event on Thursday. It was a packed house as the future of our Main Street is important to us all. We could all take a moment to be thankful for what The Express does in creating these events; and taking their role in the community seriously.
I’m in housing. I’ve been a local real estate broker for more than 30 years in Sag Harbor. We effect sales of houses, land, commercial properties etc., and we are also well known for our expertise in year-round rentals. The panel on Thursday seemed to circle round to housing from most if not all perspectives, and year round housing at that. Affordable housing for local families, employees, young people returning from school, and those in less lucrative industries like the arts, farming, fishing…all of which are needed to keep the dynamic and interesting village we have.
It’s difficult to get started in homeownership here with this market, but there’s plenty of work available if you do. These are better problems to have than lousy job prospects and dirt-cheap housing. Median income here is $110,000, about double that of the U.S.A., and the median house is a million dollars, compared to $225,000 nationally. This isn’t abnormal for the Hamptons or other resort areas, but the imbalance is sharp right now. A person or a family earning the median income can afford a monthly payment of $3,000 a month, and the mortgage payment on a median priced home is $6,000. This relationship between rent and mortgage gets distorted but it usually comes around somehow. The challenge we have seen in housing the past 3-4 years is that year round rental stock that we traditionally generate in the fall hasn’t materialized enough to meet demand. It isn’t just that prices on rentals went up, it’s that there were less available, and lack of supply drove rents past already stressed affordability levels.
Historically low interest rates the past ten years drove house prices up and kept mortgage payments low, and as a result, landlords are less likely to rent. There’s also a third rail element in the Community Preservation Fund (CPF) which points to the billion plus dollars they raised from people that bought since inception, in that the CPF impacted inventory. Introducing a billion dollar buyer that buys or preserves inventory in a limited market through purchase or development rights has had an effect in driving prices and rents of the remaining stock. How much is hard to quantify, but it has had an effect. Personally and professionally I was, and still am, a fan of the lower interest rate policy; and I was, and still am, a fan of the letter and the intent of the CPF initiatives. One helped preserve the economy as we know it, and one helped to preserve the local landscape as we know it. Neither was a luxury or a mistake, and neither is patronizing a local business. Have I said that yet?
Some effective housing solutions are in motion; accessory use apartment zoning; down payment help for first time homebuyers; commuter trains and other initiatives will all help the market right-size, but it takes time. Market dynamics working requires blind faith sometimes, and in 30 years it has rarely been fully predictable. What is predictable is that making a concerted effort to patronize and engage local businesses is vital to keeping a hometown feeling like home. What we can also foresee, is that whatever we do as a village, community or society as a whole, if we bring in more people the heaviest tax we will see is on our living water. Let’s not forget our tidal reach as everything out here depends on that, for everyone.
Simon Harrison, principal broker
Simon Harrison Real Estate
Keeping Main Street Strong
Throughout its history, Sag Harbor village has adapted to the changing times. Once a thriving whaling port that evolved into a factory town to a village that now is a quaint vacation destination, the village and its residents have endured. We are again facing a changing tide where we are seeing small, independent businesses closing their doors. Is there really anything that can be done?
The Express Session last week brought together many community leaders to discuss what is happening and how we can keep our beloved village the way it is. I was fortunate enough to be on the panel representing the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce, which plays an important role in our business district. The purpose of the Chamber is to promote our member businesses through events and advertising that drives revenue to Main Street. We are seeing our Main Street going through a change. The customer is also changing, so to stay relevant, we must evolve. Just as a business will fail if it doesn’t evolve and change with the times, so will our Main Street fail if it too doesn’t evolve.
Sag Harbor has more owner occupied and second-generation businesses than any other town in our area. We live here, we work here, we volunteer here, and we are a part of the community. But we need the community to support the village businesses first, before looking elsewhere. It is very frustrating to hear customers tell you how they searched all over (the internet, box stores, Riverhead, etc.) before coming to us as a last resort. It is the steady continuity of patronizing the local businesses that will keep us here.
We also need our local businesses to support each other. The Chamber of Commerce is an all-volunteer organization that supports itself from member dues. Many businesses choose not to be a part of our efforts yet reap the benefits of the work we do. We all need to stand together and work for our mutual benefit.
The future of Main Street is in our hands. We have the power to keep Sag Harbor the wonderful village that it is through the choices that we make. When shopping, think Sag Harbor first. Business owners should volunteer for our community events and get more involved in the Chamber of Commerce. Sag Harbor has a vital downtown business district…let’s keep it that way!
Sag Harbor Variety, second generation owner/operator
Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce, President