December 05, 2012

It Could Happen In Your Neighborhood

Every citizen on the East End should pay close attention to what has happened at the Hidden Cove Motel in Hampton Bays, because it could happen in your neighborhood.

The motel was probably built to house sun seekers during the summer, but over the years more and more year-rounders set up shop there, mostly because it was affordable for lower-income citizens.

The rooms are tiny -- about 250 square feet, according to one resident -- and the rents were less than $800 a month. But the landlord found a much better deal – the Suffolk County Department of Social Services (DSS) was willing to pay far more per unit. Better still, the DSS provided a steady stream of income by filling virtually all of the 32 units every month. The combined monthly rent: a tidy $33,000.

The trouble, according to Southampton town officials, is that the building, particularly the on-site septic system, was never meant to handle that kind of year-round occupancy.

The county uses the motel to house homeless families, often three or four to a room. The company that manages the units for the county makes a healthy profit – the more family members in a room, the more money from the county.

That company, Community Housing Initiatives, has applied to the state to have the Hidden Cove Motel classified as a registered homeless shelter. If its request is granted, it will be immune from local zoning laws.

There was a small problem though – some of the local people there didn't want to leave – so the county threatened to evict them. Friday, one of the two remaining tenants lost his court case. That leaves an 87-year old woman and her daughter as the only residents NOT paid for by social services – and they are being evicted as well.

The Concerned Citizens of Hampton Bays are up in arms, and well they should be. Most of the new residents of the motel aren't from the town, yet they now live here legally, and many of their children are in the local school system.

Taxpayers pay for it all. Yet those residents who preferred to pay their own freight were unceremoniously dumped into the streets. The man evicted Friday? He'll soon be homeless, and as such can apply to the social services for emergency housing. The net result? Instead of paying his own rent, the taxpayers will be on the hook for it – plus a healthy stipend for the management company, which is "laughing all the way to the bank," as one town official said.

Yes, we have an obligation to help the homeless – but there are plenty of local families that need help. Unscrupulous landlords are drawn to the DSS because the rents are generous and the checks arrive on time. It's not just motels – Section 8 housing is another example. More landlords should consider doing what's best for neighbors and the local community.

Each municipality should take care of its homeless, but none should be forced to take on more than their fair share.

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