Southold hosts Spanish-language housing forum
About two dozen residents attended session last Thursday
BY MELISSA AZOFEIF SUFFOLK TIMES STAFF WRITER
Judith Garrido hopes to raise her two daughters in an affordable home of her own in Southold Town.
“I have two daughters and with my partner, it’s four of us, and the apartment we live in is getting small for us,” Ms. Garrido said in Spanish. “So, we’re looking for something more comfortable, but the houses are now very expensive so we’re looking for something a bit more comfortable pricewise and more comfortable to live in.”
Ms. Garrido has lived in Southold for a decade after coming to the United States from her native Guatemala. That’s why she — along with 25 other Spanish-speaking residents — attended an informational meeting presented in Spanish about the town’s proposed community housing plan at Southold’s Center for Advocacy, Support and Transformation last Thursday evening.
The 45-minute presentation by town planner Mara Cerezo was translated into Spanish by CAST client support coordinator Daniela Menjivar. Ms. Cerezo and Ms. Menjivar gave an overview of the housing plan, explained the next steps and encouraged discussion by taking questions and comments from the public.
Ms. Cerezo’s presentation explained why the town needs a housing plan, stressing that the Community Housing Fund, which passed by referendum last November and imposes a .5% transfer tax on real estate purchases, requires municipalities to adopt a plan before any monies collected can be spent. She reviewed data about town demographics as well as the current local housing stock, the types of housing available and current market rates for home purchases and rentals.
The planning department decided to hold a meeting in Spanish because census data shows that Southold Town’s Hispanic population rose by 51.6% between 2010 and 2020. In addition, a town housing survey conducted last fall, revealed that 63% of respondents knew someone who had left Southold because of housing challenges.
The Community Housing Plan’s goals include increasing the inventory of affordable homes through low-interest loans for construction of both community housing and accessory apartments; maintaining and supporting existing community housing; and increasing home ownership opportunities for first-time buyers through low-interest loans or interest-free “hero” loans aimed at health care workers, emergency service volunteers and those who have served in the U.S. military.
Ms. Cerezo said the hope is for the plan to be ready next spring. However, she recommended that interested residents place their names on the affordable housing registry now. The registry, maintained by the town’s Housing Advisory Commission, assists the town in keeping interested residents informed about available affordable housing and helping to match them with appropriate units. According to the current draft, households eligible
for the registry must have incomes that are less than 120% of the median income for Suffolk County, which stood at $111,600 as of 2021, per U.S. Census Bureau data.
Several attendees asked how they could qualify to benefit from the Community Housing Plan once it is in place.
Felix Corte, a construction worker, attended with his partner, Iris Contreras, who works in housekeeping. The couple has lived in Greenport for 16 years. He was one of two people who asked if legal immigration status was a requirement to qualify.
Ms. Cerezo noted that there were certain requirements regarding loan eligibility but she would need to get more information from the town on the immigration status question.
“We were left with doubts still,” Mr. Corte said after the meeting.“I think only those who legally live here are applicable. On the other hand, [it seems] like the people that are being left out are those that don’t have documentation, which many times are also in need.”
“This would be a great benefit for us,” Ms. Contreras added. “We don’t have our own home, we have to be renting places and aside from that, with our low income, it’s very difficult for us to purchase a home.”
The 82-page community housing plan draft was created by the Southold Community Housing Fund Advisory Board. That group includes real estate and construction professionals, local business owners, bankers, town employees and representatives of nonprofits as well as a consultant from Nelson, Pope and Voorhis LLC.
The creation of this plan comes after voters in four of the five East End towns approved the real estate transfer fee to fund area housing solutions as part of the Peconic Bay Region Community Housing Act. The transfer fee, which doesn’t affect residents’ property taxes, could bring in more than $1 million per year for community housing in Southold Town, according to the advisory board.
The town has been collecting the tax since April, but cannot spend any of the revenue until the Town Board holds a required public hearing and approves a final plan for how it will be used.
Community members’ questions and concerns about the draft plan — including issues raised in the meetings and others sent to the town through email — will be compiled and presented to the board when the final plan is submitted for its approval.
Ms. Cerezo said it’s great that residents are interested in the fund and want to know more about it.
“People want more details, and they want to know how this plan is going to impact them,” she said.“I think that’s something we want to bring back to the Town Board to make sure that we have enough details out there so folks feel comfortable with them really adopting this plan and for them to really also understand the different members of their constituency and the concerns that they bring to the table.”
Assistant town planning director Mark Terry was also in attendance at last Thursday’s presentation and noted that the plan will create “a real injection of [affordable housing] units on the ground once it gets started … People [seeking a home] need a voice and they need hope. Hopefully this 0.5% will give them that hope going forward.”
Also in attendance was Anne Smith, a member of the town’s Housing Advisory Commission and Democratic candidate for Town Board, was also present.
“I think hearing from the community right now is the most important step,” she said.
The town will host two more presentations about the draft Community Housing Plan. One is scheduled for Thursday, June 22, at 5 p.m. at Town Hall, with an option for attendance by Zoom. The final presentation will take place Tuesday, June 27, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at Mattituck-Laurel Library.