- Just before Christmas I had the pleasure and privilege to interview Ed Romaine
who represents Suffolk County's 1st Legislative District which includes the Towns of Brookhaven, Riverhead, Southold, and Shelter Island.
Ed's career in public service and as an educator may be viewed by visiting his website.
How can we reconcile the competing needs of preservation, environmental concerns, affordable housing for young families, senior citizens, work-force housing, and government services during a time of financial melt-down?
: First, all of these issues are interrelated. They don't happen in a vacuum. Real estate doesn't happen in a vacuum. Right now, real estate developers aren't developing, and won't be for a long time. We have a backlog of foreclosures that is depressing prices and people are not selling unless they have to. There's a solution to the problem. Rather than give developers county funds to develop affordable housing, go to the banks and buy these homes in bulk and then work with BOCES to "re-hab" them and sell them to veterans, first-time buyers, and seniors. Spending the money that way rather than for new development will help stabilize the neighborhoods because of the impact that foreclosures have on the community. It also helps tax revenues because it puts the properties back on the tax roles. And when those homes are bought, you will create demand. BOCES is looking for programs like this so they can train people and put them to work.
What do you estimate this would cost the County?
: Maybe a couple of million dollars but the County is going to get back a lot of that money when we sell the houses. It's a better use of the funds than building affordable housing when we have an oversupply of houses. We can provide affordable housing at a much cheaper cost per unit by dong "re-hab" rather than build new housing. It's also consistent with land preservation which distinguishes the East End from much of Suffolk County.
Short-sales whereby banks agree to take less than the amount of the mortgage is strictly a business decision. It seems to me that the banks would welcome what you are suggesting.
: Exactly! And furthermore, the county would be buying in bulk!
It seems obvious that this would help seniors, first-time buyers, local contractors, and as you have made clear, the community as a whole.
: Yes! We could start with 20 houses, fix those up, sell them, do 20 more, maybe 120 total.
Do you have an estimate of how much money was set aside by the county for affordable housing and how much is left?
: Originally there was $20 million. Maybe there's about $5 million left.
How do you see the use of the 2 percent Community Preservation Fund Tax affecting the need for affordable housing?
: My program doesn't compete with the goals of the CPF. My program applies to existing housing. The CPF as envisioned by my Assemblyman Fred Thiele
and State Senator Kenneth LaValle
was not only to preserve open space. It was also to make sure that people had safe drinking water. Most of the homes in my district are on wells and septic systems, and overdevelopment resulted in unsanitary conditions. The funds are also used to purchase farmer's development rights, not just land.
What specifically would address the needs of affordable housing for seniors?
: HUD had a program called the HUD 202 Program funded out of Section 8 funds. I don't know if the program is still being funded. It allowed for the construction of housing developed by not-for-profit sponsors such as churches strictly for seniors of modest and low income. I would be very supportive of the construction of 12 to 14 units located in hamlets like Mattituck, Cutchogue, and Southold where seniors could walk to shopping.
What about accessory apartments?
: That would require a zoning change, and I would be in favor of accessory apartments occupied by family members, such as senior citizens. Another possibility would be funds available to perform repairs on homes occupied by seniors which wouldn't have to be paid back to the county until the house is sold. Also, special funding programs for the handicapped which are not based on income.
What about seniors who would be willing to rent an accessory apartment to a person of limited income who is not a family member?
: I think that's a great idea. It would help seniors to stay in their homes and provide a place to live to someone who otherwise couldn't afford it.
If developers were to build, what type of construction would you suggest?
: Modular housing is the most cost-effective and could sell at lower prices.
What is the 72H Program?
: That's a program where the County acquires vacant land for non-payment of taxes and turns it over to a not-for-profit sponsor to develop affordable housing.
I greatly appreciate the generous amount of time and information you shared with me.
: My pleasure.
: John will be teaching a 22.5 hours Real Estate Continuing Education classes at Long Island University in Riverhead on January 16, January 18, and January 20. For information and registration contact Rosemary Malone at 631-287-8334 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John is a St. John's University graduate, licensed Real Estate broker, lecturer, teaches real estate license classes at LIU and NYU, and acts as a consultant to the real estate industry.