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Affordable housing advocates rally for more dwelling options on East End

From left, organizers Bonnie Cannon, Curtis Highsmith, who

From left, organizers Bonnie Cannon, Curtis Highsmith, who is also executive director of the Southampton Town Housing Authority, and Michael Daly at the East End YIMBY (Yes! In My Backyard) rally in Sag Harbor on Saturday. Daly founded the group in 2017. Credit: John Roca

East End residents rallied in Sag Harbor on Saturday in support of creating and preserving housing for the restaurant workers, landscapers, teachers, first responders and others who can’t afford to live there.

The effort was led by a group called East End YIMBY (Yes! In My Backyard), a play on the word NIMBY (Not in my Backyard), a pejorative term sometimes used to describe neighbors who oppose projects in their community.

"We are here to encourage people to advocate for adequate community housing to serve everyone in the community," Michael Daly, a real estate agent who founded the group in 2017, said in a phone interview Tuesday. "The magic bullet in all of this is showing up to town and village meetings and voicing your support."

YIMBY’s purpose is in part to create a coalition to attend public meetings and let officials know there is a contingent of residents who actively support community housing, Daly said.

Affordable housing proposals on Long Island often draw protests from neighbors who cite high density, environmental concerns and disruption to community character for their opposition.

Erin O’Connor, a single mother of two teenage sons and an art teacher, said during the rally that she has been staying with friends since her landlord said her rent would rise $1,000 per month beginning in May. She said she has taken on extra classes and worked private tutoring jobs to make ends meet, but still has gone into debt due to the high cost of living.

"That treadmill nature of it without much time off was exhausting," she told the crowd. "The high rent coupled with rising costs of everything else — food, utilities, going out — it was just too much. The physical and emotional toll has been significant."

Daly said YIMBY members would also work to educate the public on the positives of building community housing, but some have taken offense to his characterization of opponents as ignorant.

"I take exception with his simplistic solutions," said Frances Genovese, of Southampton, who has written letters to the editor at a local paper to criticize Daly. "We are not opposed to affordable housing when it is carefully vetted and appropriately sited."

Still, advocates said the time when the free market could create affordable units has passed, especially amidst a pandemic-driven real estate boom.

Homes in East Quogue, a formerly relatively affordable hamlet, more than doubled in value between the second quarters of 2020 and 2021, from $561,000 to $1,099,500, according to the appraisal company Miller Samuel and the brokerage Douglas Elliman.

"Affordable housing is one of those issues locally that we have to force into action," said Curtis Highsmith, executive director of the Southampton Town Housing Authority. "It can’t happen organically."

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