- Bonnie Cannon
was born and raised in Southampton Village. She is a graduate of Howard University with 20 years business management experience; the first African-American woman to be elected to the Southampton Village Board of Trustees; the Executive Director of the Bridgehampton Child Care & Recreational Center, and the Chairperson of the Town of Southampton Housing Authority. I met with Bonnie at her office at the Center.
As one who was born and raised in the Hamptons, how have you seen the community evolve?
: When I was growing up it was more of a farming community, family oriented, more local families as opposed to second-home owners and tourists. Families left because they can't afford to live here. Their children leave because they can't find affordable housing. I'm not talking just about low income people. It's also true of average income people. The biggest needs I see are housing, jobs
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, and developing job skills.
The Hamptons has the reputation for being a very wealthy area. I would like you to speak to that, given your experience and work in the community.
: We have very wealthy people living in this community, and that can be a detriment because people think that everyone here is wealthy. We have people who don't have enough food and clothing. I had a single working mom in my office that was distraught because she couldn't pay her electric bill. In urban areas there are more programs and shelters available to the needy. There are grants designated for New York City
because of its population. People in our area get overlooked.
What are some of the services that the Center provides?
: People come to us for food, clothing, job counseling, housing, after school programs; everything that results from being economically distressed. We run a summer camp program as well as a Head-Start Center. I don't just wait for people to come to me. I believe in being pro-active. This pile of reading materials on my desk is a way I keep abreast of opportunities that could benefit our community. For example, "Youth Build," sponsored by the "United Way" provides training in construction and job opportunities to young people. In Virginia there is a training program for senior retirees who can then teach in the public schools. There's a biofuel company at the Grumman site in Calverton that could provide jobs to people in our community. I'm working with Fred Thiele
(NY State Assemblyman) on both these issues. Here at the Center we have "The Politics of It All" to which we invite guest speakers, especially from government to inform the members of the community on what our political leaders are doing. I reach out to African-Americans to speak to us and serve as role models to our young people.
How do you administer these programs?
: We have part-time staff and volunteers. We all multi-task. My Mom, who is my secretary, is also our cook. We service about 30 kids a day.
How are you funded?
: About 60 percent of our money comes from grants and 40 percent from donations.
What is the status of the seven green homes in Flanders and two in East Quogue that the Authority is building in partnership with the Long Island Housing Partnership?
: We expect to break ground this summer. We had to curtail the project due to cuts in federal funding.
What is the status of the rehabilitation project on Ludlum Avenue in Riverside?
: It's built and occupied. We received funds from the County and much of the work was done through the United Way Youth Build Program. We were able to house a family through our Housing Choice Voucher Program.
What other items does the Authority have on its agenda?
: We have been meeting with the North Sea Citizens Advisory Commission regarding the development of either four manor houses (multi-family) or seven houses with accessory apartments. We are also close to completing the transition to self-management by the Authority of the Senior Citizen housing in Hampton Bays.
What do you consider to be the biggest obstacle to the development of affordable housing?
: From my point of view everyone recognizes the need for affordable housing but is against it in their neighborhood. We have to do a better job of educating people. Ludlum is a good example. There was opposition to it before it was built and now everyone is happy with it. Too often we respond to the people who yell the loudest. We need leaders who are not blinded by the naysayers. We build one brick at a time.
Thank you Bonnie.
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. www.johnaviteritti.com