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Suffolk officials tour local affordable housing construction sites

As part of an expansive economic development plan in both the county and the state, Suffolk County officials gathered Friday to tour affordable housing construction sites in Riverhead and Speonk. 
Riverview Lofts, now under construction at 221 East Main St. in Riverhead, are part of a transit-oriented development plan intended to promote the connection between affordable housing and transportation, while advancing downtown revitalization on the East End, according to a press release from the county executive’s office. The Lofts, “a 116 unit mixed-use development overlooking the Peconic River,” will include both residential and commercial spaces.

When the Riverview Lofts project is completed in the first quarter of 2020, as estimated by Georgica Green Ventures, LLC president David Gallo, who is overseeing development, more than 100 units will be made available.

“Long Island is in danger of losing its young, working-age families because the cost of housing and property taxes [are] so high,” county Legislator Bridget Fleming said Friday. “Many of the recent developments that we see require a family income of more than six figures in order to stay here on Long Island.”

According to the Long Island Index, a project of the Rauch Foundation, that is not realistic for most Suffolk residents after expenses. In its 2018 Indicators Report, the index found that the average income for a Suffolk County household with one wage-earner is $58,620 and that families with two wage-earners, a preschooler and a school-age child earn an estimated $117,240. After expenses are deducted, remaining earnings drop to about $30,444 for single-wage earners and $26,916 for those in the latter category. That’s well below six figures for those in either group — and retail employees in the county are left with even less. It is only finance and insurance employees with two wage earners, the report finds, who are really meeting the six-figure mark.

The report also found that in Suffolk County, 7 percent of the population meets the U.S. poverty level: $12,490 for households with a single wage-earner, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Service’s 2019 Poverty Guidelines. Another 32 percent struggle to make ends meet.

Affordable housing on the North Fork has been a mainstay issue at town hall and civic association meetings for years, often raised by locals who say there are minimal residential options within reasonable financial means. The December 2017 Long Island Index Poll, prepared by faculty from the Stony Brook University political science department, found that many Suffolk County residents “have difficulty paying their rent or mortgage, say their property taxes are too high, and view the lack of affordable housing and young people or members of their immediate family moving away as a very or extremely serious problem.”

With that said, the poll found majority support for solutions that would make housing more affordable and downtowns more livable. Specifically, this can mean changes in zoning laws or increased height limits in downtown areas. The poll additionally determined that “the gap in housing affordability between Long Island households with the lowest and highest income has also grown since 2015.”

Along with Riverview Lofts, Suffolk County has invested in an affordable housing endeavor directly adjacent to the Speonk LIRR station. The unveiling of these projects comes with roughly $4 million in contributions from the county and an additional $800,000 toward beautification and revitalization efforts in the Town of Riverhead, according to the press release.

In addition, the release states, Homes and Community Renewal, a New York State organization that provides funding for construction of affordable housing units while working to advance local economic development, has invested “$11 million in tax-exempt bonds, state and federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits that will generate more than $17.3 million in equity and $15.75 million in subsidy” for Riverview Lofts, according to the press release. The Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery provided $6.5 million for the federal Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery fund, the press release said.

These new facilities, Ms. Fleming, Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith and County Executive Steve Bellone said, will be close to residents’ places of employment, medical buildings, various modes of transportation and retail shops.

“When new development can be close to major hubs of transportation, like our train station and bus routes, this only enhances the quality of life for our residents living downtown,” Ms. Jens-Smith said.

Riverview Lofts will feature a range of mixed-use studios, one and two-bedroom lofts and combinations of one-bedroom/two-bath lofts, according to Mr. Gallo, whose company is also doing work on Sandy Hollow Cove in Tuckahoe. It will be a five-story building with 12,000 square feet of commercial space, according to the press release. It also comprises 116 units, of which 87 will be available to people earning up to 60 percent area median income, 13 to those earning up to 90 percent AMI and one reserved for the superintendent, the press release said. The remaining 15 units will be available to residents earning up to 130 percent AMI.

“We have a combination of units, size, type and also affordability,” Mr. Bellone said. The Riverhead and Speonk endeavors support the county executive’s “Connect Long Island Initiative” and are part of the state’s $20 billion five-year housing plan.

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