The affordable housing crisis that is being felt increasingly across the entire East End became a late campaign issue in the recent Sag Harbor mayoral race, with new Mayor James Larocca pledging to use his connections with the Long Island Housing Partnership to begin exploring ways to ease the strain.
At the July 13 Village Board meeting, Trustee Tom Gardella issued a call to action, saying the lack of housing needed to be addressed sooner rather than later.
“I’m challenging this board and this mayor — and I know you are up to it — that we do something about the housing situation in this village,” said Mr. Gardella, whose remarks were met with thunderous applause. “There is too much anxiety among our young people who are volunteering and among our elderly, who are basically unable to pay their taxes and stay in the village that they love.”
Mr. Gardella, who oversees the fire department, ambulance corps, and police department, as trustee, said all three are dependent on there being a sufficient supply of workforce housing.
Following Mr. Gardella’s comments, Mr. Larocca said he would like to see the village explore everything from encouraging more apartments above commercial spaces downtown to exploring whether it should encourage more apartments above garages or in houses in residential neighborhoods.
He cited Levittown, where, he said, about 50 percent of all homes have a separate apartment as an example of where “the market was making this decision that government would not make.”
This week, while acknowledging that affordable housing is a problem that cannot be left on the backburner any longer, the mayor cautioned that any solution, large or small, would take time.
“The reality is we are just getting started,” he said of his administration. “If this was easy, someone would have done it by now or at least tried.”
Mr. Gardella’s call to action was met enthusiastically by the other board members.
Trustee Aidan Corish said Mr. Gardella’s comments “gave me a jolt,” adding “I thought he did a great job. Tom elevated in his tone and sincerity.”
Mr. Corish, who has pointed out in recent weeks that a number of restaurants on the East End have been forced to close certain days of the week because they cannot find enough help, said of the issue, “It is here and it is affecting the village right now.”
But he added it is likely an issue that will have to be addressed beyond the village level. “There is a big conversation that has to be had,” he said, suggesting perhaps it is time to reallocate the money collected by the Community Preservation Fund to have up to 40 percent earmarked to provide housing. “Maybe we have to rethink what is meant by community preservation,” he said. “Does it mean land preservation or community preservation?”
Trustee Bob Plumb said he, too, would support an effort to tackle the housing problem.
“It’s obviously tricky,” he said. “It’s a national problem, but it is complicated here because there is just not that much land available that you could use.”
Like Mr. Corish, Mr. Plumb said he thought the problem went beyond the village limits. “How many units would you need to make a dent?” he said. “One thousand? 100?”
He agreed that the Village Board will have to put everything on the table as it tries to replace residential units that have been excised as properties change hands and houses that once had two or three apartments are converted back into single-family homes.
New Trustee Ed Haye added his voice to the chorus, saying it was incumbent on the board to do whatever it could to help residents who want stay in the community do so.
Mr. Gardella said he would continue to bring pressure to bear on the issue.
“People view the village like a plant that is thriving with all these flowers blooming,” he said by way of analogy to the ongoing construction boom. “But what’s going on at the bottom, where the roots are? Let’s be honest, the roots are getting old and some of them are getting shallow because of financial stress. That’s the base of our village.”