The stories one hears about the struggles of local people to find affordable housing could come straight out of a documentary tracing the downfall of the East End as a viable community, so it should come as no surprise that the Sag Harbor Cinema, which reopened its doors last spring, would find itself struggling to find housing for its employees.
The situation was so pressing that the cinema did what many other local businesses have done in recent years: It entered the housing market, closing this summer on a house with six apartments at 11 Suffolk Street in Sag Harbor.
“The owner liked the cinema, so we didn’t have to get into a bidding war,” said Susan Mead, the cinema’s treasurer, who added that the cinema lost out on another property earlier this year when it was outbid in a red-hot real estate market.
But the housing did not come cheap. The cinema, which set up the Sag Housing LLC for the purpose, paid $2,995,000 for the property, which is one of the few multi-unit buildings remaining in the village.
“The good news is we executed this without putting a single dollar of the money raised for our building or a single dollar of our operating income into the building,” said John Alschuler, the president of the cinema’s board of directors, who said the theater was able to obtain a mortgage for the entire purchase price from its bank, Connect One. “We are very fortunate that we have such cooperative relationship with our lender,” he added.
The six units include two two-bedroom apartments, three one-bedroom apartments, and one studio. All the units are leased, with two cinema employees currently living in the building, Mead said. As other units open up, they will be offered first to cinema employees and then others, if there is no demand for them from the cinema’s employees, she added, noting that there was no intention of allowing apartments to sit vacant.
For now, there is no formal arrangement in place, but the cinema plans to keep the apartments affordable, with rents covering the mortgage and maintenance costs, Mead said.
Alschuler said the cinema faced the same predicament as other East End businesses that have found it necessary to buy housing for their employees or risk not being able to staff their operations because of the ever escalating price of real estate.
“The reality is the cost of housing is a major impediment to relocating here,” he said. “Our mission is to serve the Sag Harbor community, and in order to do that, we need a professional team, from projectionists to facility managers.”
He added that it wouldn’t be fair to ask employees to stay until 11 p.m. or even midnight and then drive far upisland to get home. “It became absolutely crystal clear to us we had to offer housing,” he said.