Shortly after being elected Southampton Town supervisor in 2015, Jay Schneiderman announced as one of his goals the creation of more affordable apartments in those areas of town where they were most sorely needed. Now nearly three years after that election, the town board is finally talking about taking some action in that direction.
Last week, the town board discussed changes that would allow a property owner with at least a half-acre lot to apply for the right to create an affordable apartment, down from the current requirement that a lot be at least three-quarters of an acre. Among other things, a homeowner wishing to convert part of his or her house into an apartment would be required to apply for a town rental permit and agree to charge no more than the amount capped by federal regulations — currently about $1500 for a one-bedroom apartment.
Never mind whether $1500 is a reasonable amount to ask someone to pay for a one-bedroom rental. Rooms in share houses are already at or near those levels. And still people are having a hard time finding a place to lay their head at night. Never mind, too, the question of what has taken the town board so long to finally begin considering what the supervisor said was a top priority shortly after taking office. Like it or not, governments are designed to operate slowly and deliberately, although a little more haste would certainly be appreciated by the many people scrambling to find a place to live.
According to a Suffolk County workforce housing study, Southampton Town needs to provide about 6000 more units to meet its current need for affordable housing. Allowing more affordable apartments is never going to bridge that gap. Indeed, in the 16 years the town has had a law on the books allowing accessory apartments, only about 500 property owners have taken advantage of the opportunity. But making it easier for more people to qualify and getting the word out that accessory apartments can be legal is an important first step in easing the affordable housing crisis in town.