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Staffers of Huntington affordable housing lottery land on list

Huntington is considering banning town employees from participating

Huntington is considering banning town employees from participating in affordable housing lotteries. Credit: James Carbone

Two Town of Huntington employees who worked in the department that oversees its affordable housing lottery program were ranked near the top of a list for affordable homes in a Melville development.

One Huntington Community Development Agency staff member, who has since left town employment, was 12th on the list of 200 and closed on a house in the Villages West on May 20, town officials said. Three members of the same employee’s family also made their way onto the list. The second employee, who had ranked 18th and helped administer the list, remains on the job but will no longer be on the list, town officials said.

There are four CDA employees, including director Leah Jefferson.

"I’m very disturbed here that the appearance is that the system is being gamed by insiders," town board member Mark Cuthbertson said. "It has the appearance of complete impropriety."

Cuthbertson raised the issue at Tuesday’s town board meeting before the board was to vote on a proposal banning all town employees from participating in the town’s affordable housing lottery programs.

The measure was tabled for future discussion.

Cuthbertson said he reached out to Jefferson after being alerted in April by a constituent that one of their colleagues at a local fire house was "running around" bragging about getting an affordable housing unit while he was working for the affordable housing agency.

Jefferson defended the handling of the CDA employee’s participation in the program. She said she deferred to Town Attorney Nick Ciappetta and that the town’s ethics board counsel issued an opinion on any appearance of impropriety.

"I think everyone has the same opportunity to sign up and have a good number," she said.

Town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo said the ethics board counsel gave an opinion that it was not impermissible, as long as the employee had no role in the approval process.

Ciappetta said he had no decision-making authority in the matter other than to opine that there were no ethical issues.

Cuthbertson said in his email correspondence with Jefferson she indicated Ciappetta gave verbal approval when asked if the employee can be eligible for and close on an affordable housing unit.

Cuthbertson said the employee’s salary was public record and "obviously" known to the CDA at the time.

"I don’t believe he should have been eligible for affordable housing because his salary at the CDA was $90,000," Cuthbertson said. "That would have put him outside the income eligibility limits."

But Lembo said the worker was eligible based on income.

Income eligibility for the Melville units would have been based on 2019 tax returns, she said, but "due to the pandemic the IRS extended the 2019 tax filings to July, making the 2018 return the most recent return available which the CDA employee did qualify."

It's unclear what the income limits are for this program.

Cuthbertson said Jefferson initially would not give him the list citing privacy concerns. He eventually received the list and found a second CDA employee on it.

"That’s when I learned the employee who administrates these programs and who is clearly ineligible to participate, was also on the list," he said.

There was a need for a new list of applicants for affordable units at the Villages West because a previous list had been exhausted. An automated survey system randomly selected May 23, 2019, as the day to apply. That information was sent to 1,157 people who had signed up to be notified about affordable housing lotteries, town officials said. The first 11 applicants did not qualify for the home, making the CDA worker who was 12th on the list eligible for the unit.

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