State and local officials are hoping to make “a compelling case” for the Peconic Bay Region Community Housing Fund Act with the new governor, Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said.
Thiele drafted a letter to Governor Kathy Hochul to show “broad-based support” for the fund legislation awaiting her signature, which would give the five towns the ability to raise money for affordable housing in a similar way to how money is raised for the successful Community Preservation Fund. There is “universal support” for the Act, which passed both houses earlier this year, he said, but that was also the case in 2019 when a similar proposal made it to then-Governor Andrew Cuomo’s desk and he vetoed it amid a budget shortfall to send a message about not increasing taxes.
“He’s gone, the situation is obviously 100 times different,” Thiele said in an interview on Tuesday about the letter that he circulated to East End town and village officials, as well as business, environmental, civic and community leaders.
“Housing was in crisis in 2019. It’s much, much worse now,” he added.
Residents on both forks have long struggled to find affordable housing, but the problem has only been exacerbated by the drastic increase in the demand for homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. The trickle-down effect is increased traffic, particularly for commuters, staffing shortages and a lack of volunteers for emergency services.
If signed into law, the legislation will allow the Towns of East Hampton, Riverhead, Shelter Island, Southampton and Southold to hold public referendums on raising money for affordable housing with a half-percent addition to the existing CPF, which collects money from a 2% real estate transfer tax.
Because the legislation is subject to a public referendum, it will ultimately be the voters in the five towns who get the final say on establishing such a housing fund. The state legislation is merely an authorization for the towns.
Thiele says “advocacy and education” is important, especially with a new governor and because of the fact that the similar bill was vetoed two years ago. The letter will help distinguish the most recent legislation.
Had the proposal gone through in 2019, “There would be a pretty big nest egg for affordable housing already,” Thiele said. Before the pandemic, the average revenue the five towns collected cumulatively for the Community Preservation Fund had been about $90 million annually. “In the last 12 months, it’s generated $250 million.”
While the CPF revenues, which are at an all-time high, are earmarked for land and historic preservation, as well as water quality initiatives, this new fund would be dedicated solely for affordable housing.
This week, East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc signed his name to the letter.
“Affordable housing remains a pressing need in our community in order to accommodate members of our workforce and young people who are central to a vibrant, diverse year-round community,” he said in a statement on Monday. “An ongoing funding source for affordable housing projects will enable us to move forward more quickly with a variety of projects without unduly burdening taxpayers.”
The Housing Fund Act also has other provisions, the biggest of which is increasing the exemption on the transfer tax for properties to $400,000 in the Town of East Hampton, Southampton and Shelter Island to provide more relief to those purchasing houses that are on the affordable side. The exemption would increase to $200,000 in Southold and Riverhead Towns.
Back when the Community Preservation Fund was enacted in 1998, the median home price was $250,000 on the South Fork, according to Thiele, who was the architect of that legislation, as well.
Thiele says it is important that the housing fund would not create a hardship for the very people it is trying to help.