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Southold Town housing advisory commission goes from 10 members to seven

Rona Smith, who at the time was chairwoman

Rona Smith, who at the time was chairwoman of the Southold Town Housing Advisory Commission, with Denis Noncarrow, town government liaison officer, on May 11 at the Vineyard View site in Greenport, where 50 affordable rental units are to be built. Credit: Randee Daddona

A Southold committee dedicated to finding solutions to the town’s housing shortage — an issue that town officials have been trying to solve for years — is being reduced in size.

The Southold Town Board voted 6-0 at its July 2 regular meeting to decrease the Housing Advisory Commission from 10 members to seven. The commission was formed in 2004 to make recommendations for increasing housing opportunities in Southold for families, town employees and residents.

Board members said that the commission had problems getting a quorum due to absences and the busy schedules of some members, and that reducing its size would help the committee function more effectively.

Rona Smith, the commission’s ex-chairwoman who resigned recently, said Friday that it didn’t matter if the commission is a smaller group, as its current membership is qualified to handle housing issues. Smith added that she felt the commission and town officials previously had difficulties communicating effectively on housing matters, such as a town law passed years ago increasing the density for small-scale affordable housing developments to no more than 24 units.

Smith said the law was problematic because without adding more housing units, the transaction costs for low-income housing tax credits were too high to make such projects financially viable for developers.

“It looks good on the surface, but underneath the surface a lot of this action is not meaningful in terms of creating housing,” Smith said.

She added that she left the commission — along with her positions on the Economic Development Committee and the Southold Local Development Board, both of which are town committees — because she felt she could advocate better for such issues outside of town government.

Bob Hanlon, of Orient, questioned the board at the July 2 meeting for reducing the size of a group he said serves a “vital role” in advising the town on housing needs.

“Despite the recent approval of the Vineyard View project, overall, the housing situation is getting worse, not better,” Hanlon said, referring to a 50-unit rental complex in Greenport that is geared toward workforce housing. “We need more informed and expert input, not less.”

In response, Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said the town had difficulty getting enough members to the meetings.

“The reality is this is one of the biggest committees we had," Russell said. "We needed to reduce the number to where, at the very least, we could get four people in a room at one time, given everybody's busy lives.”

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