Deadline approaching for Riverhead to put affordable housing tax on the ballot

With only weeks remaining to opt-in, the Riverhead Town Board may not give voters the opportunity to vote on a new East End affordable housing funding program.

The deadline to get the referendum establishing the Peconic Bay Community Housing Fund on the November ballot is 90 days before the general election. That means the Town Board has until August 8 to act. 

To date, the board has had just one public discussion on the program — which would be funded through a half-percent real estate transfer tax for most homebuyers — and members did not seem interested in putting it before voters. 

“I don’t believe we are going to opt-in to that,” Councilman Frank Beyrodt said in an interview Friday. “I think we have our fair share of affordable housing in Riverhead.”

For his part, Councilman Tim Hubbard said he would support placing the issue on the November ballot. 

“I think the idea behind this is to keep our young people here,” he said. 

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar has not returned phone messages from reporters seeking comment on the issue in recent weeks. 

The legislation creating the housing fund was authorized by state law in 2021 and applied to the five East End towns, according to Assemblyman Fred Thiele (D-Sag Harbor), who said it could generate tens of millions of dollars in the coming years for community and affordable housing on the East End.

By the terms of the legislation, the proposal is subject to a mandatory referendum in each of those towns. 

If the fund is put on the November ballot, and is approved by voters, Mr. Thiele said there is no deadline on deciding when to use the funding. 

According to the legislation, the Peconic Bay Community Housing Fund would be financed by a half-percent sales tax added to the 2% Community Preservation Fund tax approved in 1999. Those monies have been used for farmland and open space preservation across the East End. The additional half-percent would be exclusively for affordable housing.

The Community Preservation Fund, created in 1999, generates far more revenue in the towns of Southampton and East Hampton than it does in Riverhead and Southold. In 2022 alone, Southampton Town generated $50 million through the CPF, while East Hampton generated $28.3 million, Southold $5.73 million and Riverhead $4.21 million. 

At that rate, the new tax would create about a million dollars annually for affordable housing initiatives in Riverhead Town.