An 87-year old partially disabled woman and her daughter are being forced out of their home in Hampton Bays by Suffolk County to make room for homeless people. The story has been well documented.
But the reason for the haste, and the reason why county authorities have victimized the remaining rent-paying tenants, is much more cynical: the county is racing to get the state to designate the Hidden Cove Motel as a Tier II Homeless Shelter, a legal maneuver that will keep Southampton Town from enforcing local zoning laws.
"It's no secret the Tier II application is out there," said Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst. The supervisor met with the Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone about the motel last week. She is on record as opposing the conversion to a homeless shelter and indicated the town is prepared to sue to stop it.
The Hidden Cove was once a summer, short stay destination for sun lovers. Over the years it has transitioned more and more to affordable year-round housing for locals.
The two women, who asked not to be identified, have lived there for about four years, and were paying $700 a month rent – until last spring, when the management company running the motel for the Suffolk County Department of Social Services (DSS) jacked up their rent to $1140, "They are trying to throw us out. Here we are, disabled, unable to make enough money," the mother remarked. The two women were served with an eviction notice on Halloween, while the lights were out because of Hurricane Sandy.
"They want us out because this place has quite a bit more value since they converted it to a homeless shelter," the mother said. In fact, when all 32 units are filled with the county's homeless, the owner, identified as LAML Realty, will receive about $33,000 a month in taxpayers' money.
The county has hired Community Housing Innovations Inc., to "manage' the facility, and pays the not-for-profit, which grosses almost $17 million a year, a healthy stipend above and beyond what each resident receives in public aid.
The two women are desperate to find another place before they are forced out. "At first they said they would help us. Social Services gave us a list of other rentals in the area," the mother related. But when the pair started calling, none were in their price range. "The rental situation in this area is going up and up, not down. If I had the money I'd leave tomorrow," the mother said.
The management company provides security but is sometimes slow responding the concerns of the residents, the women said. Someone "tried to break in the unit when the power was out and they didn't do anything, so we called the police," the mother related. "They did come in and replace the sink, because it was about to fall through the floor."
Throne-Holst said the facility was never meant to house so many people, and that the septic system is inadequate.
Gregory Blass, the commissioner of the DSS, did not respond to requests for comments but wrote a letter to the editor that is in this issue. "There is nothing wrong with the septic system, which was fully approved when the original motel received its CO for a 32-room year-round motel, and which has passed inspection consistently by the County Health Services Department ever since," he wrote.
Throne-Holst said Bellone reiterated her belief that the number of homeless sheltered in any one area is limited to 12 units. "He assured me there are plans soon to be implemented for an alternate program here," Throne-Holst said. "I shared with him that we would be forced into litigation otherwise. He assured me it wouldn't come to that." Hidden Cove, she said, "is way out of compliance."
Another resident who is being evicted, Nick Saradakis, said CHI compounds the problem. "They crave the tenancies of single mothers with children," he charged, "because they get $5000 a month for each family." The DSS pays the landlord $40 per day for each unit and gives a small stipend to each resident – Saradakis guessed about $400. The rest goes to CHI.
"They've filled this place with healthy 20 and 30 year olds running around all hours who don't work. It's not fair," the daughter said.
"They don't give a shit about us. It's okay to displace a local low income person and replace us with people who are getting assistance but don't work," Saradakis said.
Blass said in his letter Saradakis is being evicted as a "result of his disgraceful, disruptive behavior." His office did not provide The Independent documentation to support the allegation.