The Summerwind Square apartment complex opened its doors to its first residents Friday, and those who are moved in say they’re pleased with their new digs.
Ali Barthalt, 22, is a Riverhead High School graduate who was living in Manorville when she applied for a Summerwind rental. She said she would have had to look further west for a place to live had the building not been available as affordable housing.
“I can live comfortably and be here,” she said of the one-bedroom apartment she shares with her friend, Rose Horton. Barthalt said she wanted to live in Riverhead because it’s “like a little city now that it’s being built up,” but found no other suitable housing she could afford on her wages from the orthopedic surgeon’s office she works in.
She likes her neighbors and loves the building’s central location to Riverhead’s downtown, which cuts out the need to find a safe ride to bars. She’s also happy to have a restaurant, the soon-to-open Joe’s Garage, located in the building’s downstairs where she can grab a bite without even having to leave the property.
She said the process to move in was frustrating with the move-in date being postponed, but gave management credit on the whole.
“I give them props for putting it all together,” she said.
Frank Grillo is a 49-year-old Teamster who’s lived in shared houses and basement apartments for the past seven years since separating from his wife. Paying child support for his two children is his first priority, he said, so any housing he finds has to be affordable.
Grillo found out about the opportunity at Summerwind while he was delivering materials from his employer, Florence Building Supply, during its construction. He applied, met the criteria and now lives only a few minutes from his job. He’s renting one of the studio apartments for $905 per month, the complex’s lowest rate.
“It’s just awesome. Everything they promised they delivered, and then some. The view from my apartment is absolutely exquisite,” Grillo said. “My quality of life has just skyrocketed.”
Grillo dropped the money for a new bed and memory foam mattress, refusing to use the air mattress he’s slept on for seven years in an apartment he said feels like his own slice of luxury. He eagerly showed off the bathroom sink, with a modern-looking flat-bottomed basin, the chrome-faced refrigerator and dishwasher, and his balcony with its view of the Peconic River, Peconic Avenue and Grangebel Park.
Stepping out of the building, he ran into Steve Kroll, 29, an English teacher at Mattituck High School. The new neighbors greeted each other cheerfully, satisfied they remembered each other’s names.
Kroll had rented on the North Fork for eight years and lived in Manhattan for two before moving to Riverhead.
“I like it because it reminds me of New York a little bit in the sense that it’s a downtown area, and hopefully it’s lively and there’s things to do for young people, especially young professionals,” he said.
He said the studio alcove he rents is “wonderful for the price,” and said his application process took just three weeks.
Ray Dickhoff, a partner in the project, said 30 units of the complex’s 52 have been rented. He said there have been two to three applicants per week, and hopes to have the remaining 22 units rented in another few weeks.
Applicants must meet Suffolk County’s standards for its workforce housing program, which has three different income levels. They must earn less than 80, 100 or 120 percent of the region’s median income to qualify.
The Long Island Housing Partnership, the organization reviewing applications, extended its application deadline in April for one month in the hopes of seeing more. Senior vice president James Britz said a lull in rentals isn’t unusual to see between the kickoff of such programs and residents actually moving in. He said a ribbon-cutting will be held sometime in the future to create some publicity, but the real value is in people seeing the place for themselves and talking about it.
“As foot traffic develops, there’s usually an influx,” he said.
Photo captions, from top: 1. Frank Grillo on the balcony of his studio apartment, overlooking the Peconic River and Grangebel Park; 2. Ali Barthalt and Rose Horton in their one-bedroom rental.
RiverheadLOCAL photos by Micah Danney.