Southold Anti-Bias Task Force raises concern over affordable housing preference

By Jenna Park

Members of the Southold Town Anti-Bias Task Force appeared before the Southold Town Board recently to raise concerns about a number of units that are being prioritized in the Vineyard Views affordable housing complex that is now being built in Greenport.

On Sept. 24, the Southold Town Board adopted a zoning code resolution that would give priority status to the town’s affordable housing registry to first responders and fire volunteers, which, task force members said they worried, would leave fewer affordable housing options for other residents in financial need.

 The Southold Town Board recently adopted a zoning code resolution grant priority status for affordable housing to first responders. Photo courtesy Southold Town

ABTF member Susan Dingle thanked the Town Board for its support throughout the years in creating a “bias-free community,” but wanted to discuss the impact this preference could have on members of the minority community, in particular.

“We all agree the service of first responders and volunteers is very important and deserves all the recognition and acknowledgment,” Dingle said, “because we all benefit so much from it.

“We wanted,” she continued, “to point out to you that, inadvertently, without intending to do so, by privileging these folks in terms of getting very-difficult-to-come-by housing, is going to have an impact on other communities, particularly on minority communities.”

The ABTF raised questions to the Town Board about the town’s affordable housing registry, including guidelines, income brackets and secure mortgages. The group wondered how many of the 50 units at Vineyard Views would be set aside for first responders, and if other applicants would be treated fairly in the lottery process to obtain affordable housing.

Denis Noncarrow, Southold Town government liaison, told the ABTF that in the new Vineyard View project, first responders would receive priority status, but would not be given first priority. They would have to submit their applications in a pool of other priority candidates. They would also have to meet certain criteria, including being an active member of an emergency services unit, with a minimum of three years of service. Other candidates in the pool would be considered according to their family income.

Southold Town Attorney Bill Duffy reviewed the code that was approved unanimously by the Town Board in September, clarifying that the Affordable Housing District zoning code only applies to affordable housing overlay districts.

Each application for affordable housing would be considered on a case-by-case basis and require a public hearing, and the Vineyard View project is “not a part of this,” because it is not part of the overlay district, according to Noncarrow.

In a case where an existing structure is converted into affordable housing, or residents build apartments on their properties, preferential treatment for first responders would not be required. Town Board members said they hoped preference would be given to local residents.

ABTF member Valarie Shelby thanked the Town Board for the discussion on the matter, and wanted to clarify that the Task Force did believe that first responders deserve affordable housing.

She added, “This is how a bias-free community grows, through dialogue and through sharing and understanding.”