New committee forms to take on housing, homelessness in Riverhead

A new “quality of life” committee formed in Riverhead aims to tackle what officials called the three Hs: housing, homelessness and home ownership.

Connie Lassandro of Calverton, who is also the president of the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce, will be the group’s chair. Other members of the the committee include East End Arts executive director Diane Burke; Rob Carpenter of the Long Island Farm Bureau; Tracy Stark-James of the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency; attorney Lee Mendelman; real estate agent Patrick Fedun; mortgage broker Melisa Gentile, and banker Dave Barczak.

“I can admit to having at least 40-plus years in the housing field,” Ms. Lassandro said. “I’m grateful that you asked me to do this for the town.” She said homelessness “is a huge a issue here in Riverhead and every place.”

Ms. Lassandro said New York state has a grant that will provide up to $350,000 to support programs to combat homelessness.

Recent statistics show that 16.5% of the homeless in Suffolk County come from Riverhead, while 8.7% come from the East End, she said.

Officials said there is also the issue of “sober homes” in Riverhead.

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said there are nine sober homes on a short stretch of Main Street. “That’s a substantial number,” she said. “We need to address that.”

She said the town has a new deputy town attorney who has been who is bringing civil actions in state Supreme Court court against businesses that don’t comply with the town codes.

Ms. Lassandro said that dealing with the homeless involves “going out and getting to know them and getting their trust, and services they need. You’re not going to combat homelessness unless you provide services.”

When it comes to affordable housing, officials said, longtime residents and town employees are being priced out of Riverhead.

Ms. Lassandro said she was surprised to learn that 60% of the town’s Civil Service Employees Association members make less than $60,000 per year. She said that’s not enough to live on.

Ms. Aguiar said she had built a room onto her home several years ago so her son could stay there when he returned from college. He ended up remaining upstate because of the high cost of living on the East End, she said.

Councilman Ken Rothwell suggested the committee’s focus should be on helping veterans and senior citizens find housing.

“I am a big supporter of veterans’ housing,” Ms. Lassandro said.

Officials also suggested allowing the conversion of empty big box stores along Route 58 into apartments as a means of creating housing. That idea has been discussed with county officials in Aug. 2020 but did not move forward. At the time, a number of Route 58 stores were vacant.