By Mara Certic
One thing that East End residents can all agree on, is that with a booming real estate market, it is getting ever more expensive to live here. And one of the unintended consequences of that boom is that young people are being priced out of the region, with one of the most difficult challenges facing them is to find somewhere to lay their head that doesn’t completely empty their pockets.
In the 20 years he has lived in Sag Harbor, Robert Evjen has seen the notion of affordable starter homes almost disappear from the village landscape, and now, he and his wife are putting money aside to help his children, should they choose to move home after college.
“You cannot find a house in the $600,000 range anymore,” he said in his office at Douglas Elliman this week. “There are homes in the $700,000 to $800,000 range, but they need work.”
“The good news is that Sag Harbor is red hot,” Mr. Evjen said. “But the bad news is that young adults are getting priced out.”
One of the biggest problems for those looking to buy, Mr. Evjen said, is the ability for young people living and working on the East End to come up with the significant down payment that is typically required to buy a house. In many cases, house prices have tripled in the two decades that he has lived in the school district, Mr. Evjen said, and a lot of that has been caused by investors who buy up the cheapest houses, renovate them and flip them.
“There are no more finds,” Mr. Evjen said.
Greg Ferraris, a former Sag Harbor mayor and president and founder of the Sag Harbor Community Housing Trust, said that he did a needs analysis for the Sag Harbor area both in 2009, when the trust was created, and again last year when plans to build affordable housing were reinvigorated. In 2009, the biggest issue facing young people was trying to collect enough money for a down payment on a house, he said. Five years later, the needs analysis showed that a down payment was no longer even an option, and that people were struggling to find an affordable place to rent.
The housing trust interviewed many different people to try and put its finger on exactly what had changed, and Mr. Ferraris said there were a few different explanations.
“One of the reasons we found was the success of the school district,” Mr. Ferraris said. “We found out how many people move into the district just for the school year to enable their students to go to the schools.”
Upward of 40 families rent in Sag Harbor during the school year, he said.
Another factor, he said, is the conversion of multi-family homes and boarding houses that used to line village streets. Recently, he said, 16 multi-family homes in the village have been converted to single-family houses.
“We have fewer rental apartments than we did and prices have gone up again,” Mr. Evjen said. This has hit local business owners hard, who are struggling to house employees.
“You can see a direct effect in people trying to maintain and grow their businesses. There’s a lack of young skilled and unskilled labor out here due to the lack of housing opportunities,” Mr. Ferraris said.
Jim Merrell, a Sag Harbor architect, is currently trying to find a way to house the young architects he wants to employ.
“As this whole region has grown over the last 25 years or so that I’ve been here, it’s drawn more people of all different types of professions,” Mr. Merrell said over the phone this week. “We’ve needed more lawyers and architects and there isn’t that pool here so those people have to move here. That’s why we’re faced with the problem of housing here that most communities don’t have to deal with.”
When he first moved here in 1988, he struggled through a few years of cheap winter rentals, but finding somewhere affordable to live wasn’t as difficult in the past as it has become recently, Mr. Merrell said.
His business is currently floating several scenarios for housing new employees, he said, including buying, renovating or renting space that could be used as worker apartments.
“There are so few apartments out here,” he said. “It should really be a priority in the community to create more.”
The housing trust is trying to do just that, and a project in the works could come to fruition within the next 18 months, if all goes according to plan and NIMBYism doesn’t play too big a role, Mr. Ferraris said.
“It’s a real problem, and it’s going to get worse,” Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said about housing this week. “From Shinnecock Inlet east, two-thirds of the houses in my district are second homes, or third or fourth homes. That demand drives up the price to a point where it becomes very difficult for a young person to afford to live here.”
But it isn’t a lost cause for everyone. “If you’re lucky enough to be part of a generational family, that’s an in to the housing market,” Mr. Evjen said.
Mr. Evjen often gets calls from members of local fire and police departments trying to find starter homes. It used to be that affordable houses could be just across the canal in Hampton Bays. Now, however, prices there have started to rise as well, and young people are being pushed further and further west, he said.
“If you’re smart financially it can work, and it’s all about saving,” he said. “But without someone to help you with a down payment it’s really, really difficult.”