A new town committee being discussed by town officials would focus on making recommendations about housing and other “quality of life issues.”
Connie Lassandro of Baiting Hollow, would chair the committee. Lassandro is currently a housing consultant who has consulted on housing projects in Riverhead. She has decades of public sector experience administering housing programs, including as director of Nassau County’s Office of Housing and Homeless Services.
Lassandro said during the board’s work session yesterday that the committee will focus on the ‘Three Hs’ — housing, homelessness and home ownership.
The town needs to target workforce housing, said Lassandro, who is the current president of the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce. She said much of the workforce is priced out of Riverhead, and even the prices of low cost homes in Riverhead are not affordable for first-time homebuyers.
“But with that being said, there are ways to do it,” Lassandro said. She said the town could encourage 3D-printed homes, and owner-occupied, income-restricted duplex townhouses. “So you’re killing two birds with one stone, you’re increasing your home ownership and you’re also addressing the need for affordable housing.”
Town officials stressed that first-time homebuyer assistance should be the town’s priority. Community Development Director Dawn Thomas said her department is working to create a program in the downtown area.
“We think that that Second Street area is really ripe for first-time homeowners,” she said. “So we’re going to work with [the Community Development Corporation of Long Island] and the county to try to purchase some of those homes in there and then make them a first-time homebuyer opportunities.”
Lassandro said the town should also consider creating a “community housing fund” to support affordable housing opportunities in Riverhead. The Town Board decided not to pursue a local law to put the initiative before voters last year, because, town officials said, the town has enough affordable housing. State legislation enacted in 2021 allowed towns in the Peconic Bay Region, with voter approval, to authorize a half-percent real estate transfer tax to fund the initiative.
Every other town on the East End passed a local law establishing the fund, and the voters in each municipality approved a referendum authorizing the half-percent real estate transfer tax in the 2022 General Election.
The town wants to opt into the law now in order to provide loans to first-time homebuyers, Aguiar said yesterday.
“There’s a lot out there for them,” Lassandro said of assistance programs for first-time homebuyers. “and we need to package it for them.”
The board also discussed expanding housing opportunities for senior citizens who want to downsize and for veterans.
Lassandro said a good portion of the homeless are veterans and that tiny homes are “perfect” for them. “I’ve got developers that are willing to come in and do it, if we can identify some land…,” she said.
Aguiar also raised the possibility of retuning big-box stores on Route 58 into “micro apartments,” something she raised the possibility of doing when she took office in 2020. That idea was initially put forward by Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn.
Riverhead has a lot of street homelessness, Lassandro said. “But there’s ways to combat it. And we just have to be creative, we have to be tenacious about it,” she said.
Lassandro said New York State is offering a grant for up to $350,000 for outreach to the homeless and to help them get services.
“You’re not going to combat homelessness unless you provide services,” she said. “You can put them in a house, you can put them in a room, it’s not going to work. You’ve got to provide the services. And I tell you that, because I’ve done it.”
The committee could also bring to the Town Board ways to regulate sober homes and help town code enforcement tackle illegal housing in the town, Lassandro said.
Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said the town is looking into issues related to sober homes. The Town Board recently held a public hearing on a new overlay district downtown that would prohibit new sober homes in the area. The town has nine sober homes on Main Street, Aguiar said.
Lassandro said that the county controls the residencies of sober homes through Medicaid payments. “So you’ve got to have a dialogue with the commissioner over there. And it can be done,” she said.
Other members of the committee would include Riverhead Industrial Development Agency Executive Director Tracy Stark-James, IDA board member Lee Mendelson, real estate broker Patrick Fedun, East End Arts Executive Director Diane Burke, Long Island Farm Bureau Executive Director Rob Carpenter, DIME bank branch manager David Barczak and Teachers Federal Credit Union mortgage loan officer Melissa Gentile.
The Town Board wants the committee to also focus on issues related to security in Riverhead. Burke said that the committee has met informally and was concerned about its responsibilities being too broad. She asked the board if the committee can focus just on housing for now.
Most of the board members were in agreement that the committee would focus on housing. Council Member Bob Kern, who introduced the prospective members of the committee during the work session discussion, said the committee’s responsibilities would remain broad and can narrow at a later date.
Editor’s note: This article has been amended after initial publication to remove a quote that was left in due to an error and to add the name of a member of the committee not originally mentioned.
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