Seniors fear Riverhead’s giving housing authority the boot

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Town officials say the town’s East Lawn Building costs $20,000 a year in utilities alone. They’re trying to sell the building.

A number of senior citizens who receive federal rental subsidy vouchers through the Riverhead Housing Development Corporation expressed concern at Tuesday night’s Town Board meeting that the town might be “outsourcing” the program.

“Why are you offering the RHDC out to other agencies?” asked Amanda Jane Brown, RHDC’s president. “Why do you refuse to house us in Riverhead?”

The notion appears to have come from the fact that the town is planning to sell the East Lawn building on East Main Street, where the RHDC’s office is located. The East Lawn building needs extensive repairs and costs about $20,000 in utilities, officials say.

Supervisor Sean Walter didn’t initially help to squash the rumors when he pointed out that he only just discovered the town pays RHDC a total of $14,000 a year, in addition to given the housing authority rent-free space at East Lawn. He also said that if there is an “economy of scale” to consolidating the RHDC’s functions with out-of-town programs that administer the same federal vouchers, the town has a responsibility to look at it.

But about six senior citizens who receive the federal Housing and Urban Development vouchers through the RHDC said they would have difficulty if the agency’s office was not in Riverhead, because many of them don’t drive, or have mobility problems.

“I have not said we’re moving you out of town,” Mr. Walter said.

Councilman  John Dunleavy said 85 percent of the RHDC clients are senior citizens.

“I think $14,000 is very little for what you guys do for our senior citizen population,” Mr. Dunleavy said. The RHDC housing is inspected annually by the town to make sure it’s safe, too, he said. The RHDC gives out 224 vouchers for rental subsidies, officials said.

Mr. Walter said the town will try to help find RHDC new office space that is in town and on the ground level, to accommodate the seniors.

In addition to RHDC, the East Lawn building also houses the Chamber of Commerce, the town historian and Riverhead Community Awareness Program, all of whom get the space rent-free.

“We’re not throwing anybody out or ending the program,” Mr. Walter said. He said he felt someone was using “scare tactics” in giving bad information to the senior citizens.

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