By Stephen J. Kotz
It is not that difficult to get permission to add an accessory apartment to your home in Southampton Town, provided your property is at least three-quarters of an acre and you are willing to pull together the necessary paperwork to obtain a town permit.
But according to Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, “we have no takers for that law.” The problem, he said, is that many people who might want to build an accessory apartment and benefit from the extra income it would bring in either do not have enough land to qualify or can’t afford the cost of renovating their homes.
Under a proposal that Mr. Schneiderman first aired early in 2016 and hopes to see ready for its public unveiling by this summer, the town would ease lot-size restrictions and help homeowners obtain special financing for the necessary renovations — provided homeowners agree to keep the rent affordable and lease them to people who meet income qualifications.
“We need affordable rentals,” he said. “To me one way to do that is to add them to existing homes because when we try to concentrate too many in one location, we end up with community resistance. And it always takes a long time to get through that opposition and the litigation that may come with it.”
Mr. Schneiderman believes that creating more affordable accessory apartments that are scattered across town — with an emphasis on providing more of them in areas that are now considered the least affordable —is one way to break through that resistance and begin the daunting task of chipping away at the housing shortage.
A key to making the program work, the supervisor believes, is to ease the lot-size restrictions so that people who live closer to hamlet centers where properties are usually smaller, would qualify. That would solve one problem of encouraging rentals close to transportation sources and shopping. A second component would be a freeze on property taxes, the waiving of fees and help with the permitting process.
“Those things in and of themselves are probably not enough to make someone do this,” Mr. Schneiderman. “That’s why I think we need a third party to come in and provide the financing. We need someone who will come in and pay to build the apartment and collect the money back as a percentage of the rent, not as a mortgage. That way the homeowners is not taking the risk of having to make payments if the apartment sits empty.”
One other obstacle to providing affordable rental units is the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, which oversees the issuance of sanitary permits. But Mr. Schneiderman said an often-overlooked portion of the town’s Community Preservation Fund law allows the town to use development credits stripped of land that is preserved to meet affordable housing needs.
Mr. Schneiderman this week said he was frustrated that the program has taken so long to get off the ground, but he said that Diana Weir, who was recently appointed the director of the town’s Office of Housing and Community Development, was making it a priority.
“Soon, soon,” he said of when the program will be unveiled. “I have a town board that is supportive of this.”