Editorial: The North Fork’s Catch-22

Here’s a challenge many small businesses on the North Fork confront.

An employer identifies a prospective employee they believe is exactly the type of candidate they need to fill an open position.

That job candidate wants to live and work on the North Fork, but the potential to find an affordable place to live just isn’t there.

The candidate either accepts the job and commutes to work or decides to turn it down.

In an area where the hospitality business is booming, but the affordable rental market barely exists, local municipalities say they are struggling with ways to attract millennial workers to the North Fork — and keep them here.

In both towns and the Village of Greenport affordable housing has been among the most discussed topics in recent years, but very little has been done to address the problem directly.

Plans for an affordable apartment complex in Mattituck were scrapped in 2015 due to lack of support from town officials and neighbors. In Riverhead, community leaders and even some candidates for public office have spoken out against rental projects that could include workforce and affordable housing components. And many in Greenport believe the lack of a short-term rental law has greatly reduced long-term rental options.

So we’re left with higher-end housing options for people who have low-paying to mid-level jobs — a combination that doesn’t bode well for the long-term health and vibrancy of our local communities.

In this week’s front-page story on the issue, Greenport Village Trustee Doug Roberts makes the mostly fair point that it’s hard for legislators to appreciate the severity of the situation when they aren’t hearing about it from the millennials who are most affected. Those younger people, however, often work night-time and second jobs and aren’t available to attend local government meetings. It’s mainly retirees with a very different set of priorities who have time for such events.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter and his fellow board members are right to try and emulate the success of the Village of Patchogue by bringing more affordable rental opportunities to their downtown area. The housing solutions found in that South Shore community can be directly linked to the revitalization of its downtown business community.

In Southold and Greenport, many local businesses that are already thriving could also be doing more to actively address the dilemma their employees face. Mr. Roberts and Supervisor Scott Russell both spoke of the potential benefits of code changes permitting more upper-story apartments in their respective municipalities. Will there be a commitment from the business community, including both shop owners and landlords, to make those spaces both available and affordable to our millennial workforce?

It remains to be seen if any of these solutions will have any long-term positive effect on this growing problem. But, as Mr. Russell said, it sure beats doing nothing.