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Riverhead passes on chance to place affordable housing tax on the ballot

There will be no referendum in November asking Riverhead residents if they support an additional .5% transfer tax to the existing Community Preservation Fund, with the additional funding going to create affordable housing.

Town officials say Riverhead already provides more affordable housing than any of the other East End towns.

The existing CPF was created by voters in the five East End towns in 1999 and imposed a 2% land transfer tax that is used to buy open space and farmland preservation. The new fund is known as the Peconic Bay Community Housing Fund.

The existing CPF fund has generated more than $1 billion since its creation, but the towns of Southampton and East Hampton have generated far more the the other towns, particularly in Riverhead, where officials say affordable housing is more of a South Fork problem.

“We still have debt on the CPF,” said Bill Rothaar, the town’s financial administrator. The town also has to maintain the properties it acquired through the CPF, he said.

The distance between how much Riverhead has made through the CPF and the amount the two South Fork towns made is huge. 

In the first five months of 2022, Southampton Town generated $50 million and East Hampton town $28 million. Riverhead, on the other hand, generated $4.2 million, with only Shelter Island generating less.

“They have a lot more money than we do,” Councilman Frank Beyrodt said. 

Dawn Thomas, Riverhead’s community development director, said that many of the people that work on the South Fork can’t afford to live there and instead live in Riverhead.

Councilman Tim Hubbard said he initially thought the proposal could help first-time homebuyers. But he said the proposal “doesn’t really fit Riverhead” and works better in Southampton and East Hampton.

Riverhead, he said, “has always been a diverse community and we want to keep it that way.”

Mr. Beyrodt said the CPF was created to preserve farmland and open space and has done that successfully. 

The Town faced an Aug. 8 deadline to put the measure on the ballot.

The four Town Board members present at Thursday’s work session were in agreement not to pursue the matter further. Councilman Ken Rothwell was not present.

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.