The East Hampton Town Board is studying the state of affordable housing in town after a proposal by Councilwoman Theresa Quigley to discuss allowing accessory apartments several months ago caused a public outcry and spurred significant opposition.
Last week the board heard from a group appointed to study the matter, and town board members acted surprised to hear of the disparity between the cost of homes as opposed to the ability of the average resident to afford them. Our question is, why?
The town has been in a conservation mode for nearly three decades. The "Save What's Left" mantra has been endorsed and practiced by town boards, regardless of affiliation, with the full backing of the populace. The town launched a significant and concerted effort to buy land for preservation, and the county and state were equally aggressive. We up-zoned hundreds of parcels – in fact, there have been three town-wide up-zonings in the past 25 years. When the Community Preservation Act was passed, the preservation efforts were intensified, of course – those monies could only be used to preserve land, with a few minor exceptions.
Obviously, when thousands of building parcels are removed from the market, those remaining soar in value. That's Economics 101. That was the plan. That's what the people wanted, and still want. We want our little piece of heaven. We live here, many of us were here as children, and our parents before us. Many of us worked two jobs to afford to buy our homes; we cherish them, and want to keep their value high, and our neighborhoods pristine.
The board concluded that since the average house costs $823,000, and since about half are considered vacation homes, that thousands of town residents can't afford to buy houses. We have the sinking feeling that the board will now use this data to push the Quigley plan no one wanted to begin with, and that somehow this board feels the need to do something to address the disparity as presented by the housing committee. We question both the methodology used in the study, and the data presented to the board.
Every community on earth is a mixture of homeowners and renters. No community is composed solely of home owners. That does not mean the municipality is charged with creating affordable housing, especially at the expense of other residents.
Who exactly are the people who need dwellings in East Hampton? Are they really local, or did they come here to work and decide to feed off our school districts and hospital while living illegally? Why do they come here if they don't have a home here? To service the rich? Then it would follow if they weren't here, local contractors would be used for many of those jobs.
We suggest eliminating the illegal dwellings first and then talking about how much housing is needed.
The talk at the town board meeting last week seemed to infer there's something wrong with the fact that property values have risen three fold since 2000 – we embrace it. Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said the data presented will be a jumping off point for discussions. What's there to discuss? Who even wants the discussion? As far as we can tell only the supervisor, Quigley, and two clowns from the South Fork Progressive Coalition.
Since the town professes to be too broke to pick up the leaves in the street, any expenditure for affordable housing should be put before the people as a stand-alone proposition. We'll wager it will get crushed by the voters.
We are fed up paying school taxes for those who don't legally live in our school districts. We especially don't want multi-residential dwellings in our neighborhoods bringing down the values of our homes – it is the only meaningful asset many of us possess. Legalizing illegal apartments, or allowing single-family residences to expand into multiple dwellings, is never going to happen in this town. It's just the way it is. There is no rationale for change, and no impetus. No one wants it.
We certainly aren't criticizing the current town board for looking into affordable housing after a decade of prior administrations doing almost nothing. Yes, society has always tried to care for its poor. But a giant mind shift has occurred since the 2007-08 economic meltdown. Many of us who lived the American dream are reeling – we lost, or could lose, our jobs; our mortgage payments are derelict, and we literally are faced with being put out on the streets, leaving our children homeless. This isn't rhetoric, these aren't scare tactics – this is really happening. The taxpayers of this community fund the town, and we are now the embattled, beleaguered segment of the populace that needs help: We need to be able to afford our own homes to continue to pay the taxes that run this town. That's the kind of affordable housing that dominates our mindset.