Town Tweaking Affordability Requirements

Southampton Town's housing and community development director Diana Weir speaking at the Express Sessions event on affordable housing earlier this year. Michael Heller photo

The East End being an expensive place to live, the Southampton Town Board plans to adjust income guidelines for those applying for affordable housing.

The town code currently lists three income categories: low, moderate and middle, but under a code revision presented by housing and community development director Diana Weir and assistant town attorney Kara Bak last week, those will be reduced to two categories, low moderate and middle, to mesh with state standards.

To qualify as low to moderate income, a family of four would not be allowed to make more than 80 percent of the median income for Long Island, which is set by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and is currently $110,800. That means a family of four could make up to $88,640 a year to qualify as low to moderate income.

To qualify as middle income, a family of four could make up to 130 percent of that same median income, or $144,000. Currently, the town code’s maximum income is 120 percent of the median income.

Ms. Weir said the change to a slightly higher income threshold would bring the town in alignment with the state’s Long Island Workforce Housing law.

When the board discussed the changes at last Thursday’s work session, Supervisor Jay Schneiderman asked how large a mortgage a family of four making $144,000 would be expected to reasonably handle. When Ms. Weir responded that most guidelines set the limit at two and a half times total earnings, or about $360,000. “In most of the town, there is nothing touchable,” she said. “That’s why we need that relief.”

The town also takes steps to try to keep houses that were purchased with subsidies from the town in the stock of affordable housing. The town currently has a housing fund, which it can use to help people buy houses that they would not otherwise be able to afford. The caveat is that once the homeowner sells the house, the town will recoup its investment plus a capital gain equal to its percentage of equity in the home, with those funds being used to help finance another home.

Although a buyer could theoretically sell the house on the open market if the town cannot find a qualified buyer within 90 days, Ms. Weir said the town reserves the right of first refusal and can purchase the price at its appraised value to keep it in its housing stock and offer it to its current waiting list of 800 people.