Islip Councilman Christopher Bodkin, leaving office in January after 16 years, hopes to leave a tiny but transformative legacy: pint-size cottages built as affordable housing.
The idea actually came from his girlfriend, Nell Bard, a former social worker who, flipping through a Lowe's home-improvement catalog last summer, noted the efficient and affordable cottage designs created to house those left homeless by Hurricane Katrina.
"Why doesn't the town build these?" she asked him.
"I'll find out," he replied.
Bodkin, chairman of the town's Community Development Agency, passed the catalog around at the next meeting.
He expected to hear 10 reasons why the town couldn't do it. Instead, he sparked a 15-minute brainstorming session on all the ways it could.
The town is now planning its first cottage - a two-bedroom, 918-square-foot home, with a front porch, to replace a condemned saltbox-style house on an undersized lot in Bay Shore.
"The dream here is that these will come in under $100,000 [purchase price] and people will be paying less per month for this than for rent in some god-awful basement apartment," Bodkin said during a visit to the boarded-up house on a recent afternoon.
Habitat for Humanity, which has applied for a variance from the town's Zoning Board of Appeals, hopes to build the first cottage and select a buyer. For a family of up to four, Habitat requires an income of $40,720 to no more than $61,080.
May build three or four
If enough buyers show interest, the town could build three or four cottages a year that would be sold through Habitat for Humanity or Community Development Agency lotteries, said Paul Fink, executive director of the latter.
For post-World War II families, an original Levittown home of 750 square feet filled a demand. Fink said he has seen a growing need for smaller homes as the size of families seeking affordable housing shifts to single parents and single adults.
And the compact size of a cottage, with no basement or garage, offers advantages, including lower heating and electrical bills, and lower maintenance costs.
Bodkin and Bard know this firsthand. Bard, 54, a field researcher for the University of Chicago, owns a 780-square-foot house in Brookhaven hamlet. And Bodkin, 62, a Democrat who was unseated in the November election, said his West Sayville home, built in 1784, is a little more than 600 square feet.
"Why do we need McMansions and sprawling lawns?" Bodkin said. "We don't."
Islip's first Katrina-style cottage - inspired by the Lowe's catalog and designed by a local architect - is planned for one of the town's poorest neighborhoods - the Sunnybrook section of Bay Shore. The Community Development Agency has been working there for several years to acquire dilapidated housing, refurbish it and offer it as affordable housing.
Driving through the neighborhood, Fink pointed to three vacant lots where he envisions cottages.
Not many big lots left
"We're trying to meet a different market niche," he said, "and we're realizing we don't have a lot of big-size lots left to develop."
An application to build the first cottage must go before the town's Zoning Board of Appeals because the lot, about 50 feet by 100 feet, is substandard. The application is scheduled to be considered at the board's January meeting.
The Community Development Agency bought the property on Harrison Avenue from the estate of the owner in 2005. In 2008, the agency transferred it to Habitat for Humanity.
The first cottage will meet Energy Star building standards and will have solar panels donated by the Long Island Power Authority, Bodkin said. The owner will be selected through a lottery.
"This is a breakthrough," he said. "They will be building equity and the property will be back on the tax rolls. How good is that? It's a little, serendipitous miracle."