Ninety properties that Suffolk County gave to towns and villages to build affordable housing have sat undeveloped for more than seven years, with some vacant for as long as 30 years, county records show.
Local government and nonprofit housing developers that receive the land blamed the delays on various issues, from difficulties in getting town board approvals to cobbling together the funding necessary to subsidize construction costs. In addition, the 2008 housing market collapse made it harder for borrowers to qualify for mortgages, even for the subsidized houses, officials said.
Some Suffolk lawmakers say they are running out of patience and are considering taking back some of the properties so the county, which is struggling with budget deficits, can auction them off.
“Given the financial situation of the county, it’s important these properties are either utilized as intended or taken back by the county so we can auction them off,” said Legis. Lou D’Amaro (D-North Babylon).
“Although there may be a legitimate reason why the property was not used, 30 years seems excessive,” D’Amaro said.
Legislative Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said if towns or nonprofits “don’t have a viable plan, we should auction them and generate some money.”
Under county law, local governments have seven years to build the housing and find an owner or renter. Their incomes are limited to 120 percent of Long Island’s median family income — $127,440 for a family of four.
The Suffolk County Legislature can grant extensions, or the land reverts back to the county. The majority of the units built under the program are single-family homes that are sold.
Most of the properties are vacant land without structures, county officials said. Towns and nonprofits said they pay to maintain the properties.
Since 2000, 555 properties the county seized for failure to pay taxes have been transferred to local governments for as little as $10, according to county records. The towns then often give the land to nonprofits.
- Homes have been constructed and are occupied at 403 sites, local governments told the county.
- 90 properties the county transferred more than seven years ago are undeveloped.
- 62 properties given by the county in the last seven years are undeveloped.
County officials say they didn’t notice the backlog of undeveloped properties until this year, when new county staff began overseeing the “72-h” program, named for a section of state law that allows land transfers between municipalities.
The county legislature this year gave two-year extensions to 11 properties in the Village of Greenport and the towns of Babylon and Islip. They included six properties the county gave Islip 30 years ago.
Islip officials told the county there were issues getting clear title on the properties, county officials said. Islip Community Development Agency executive director Alison Karppi, whose office controls the properties, didn’t respond to requests for comment. A town spokeswoman, Caroline Smith, said she couldn’t speak specifically about those properties.
The legislature will consider giving two-year extensions to 68 properties in Babylon, Islip, Brookhaven and Southampton during its September and October meetings.
“We certainly intend to hold them to the two-year extensions,” said Amy Keyes, a government liaison officer for economic development and planning who oversees the 72-h program with Jason Smagin, acting director of real estate.
Brookhaven has held 35 properties for seven years or longer, the most of any town. Islip and Babylon have 22 each, Southampton has 7, East Hampton has 2 and the villages of Westhampton Beach and Greenport have one each.
Ten properties in East Hampton, Southampton, Babylon and Brookhaven will be given back to the county. Town officials said the properties can’t be developed because of problems including drainage or lack of demand in the area. The county will consider auctioning off the parcels or using them for other purposes, Smagin said.
Local governments and the nonprofit housing developers say the program overall has been a success, allowing them to build hundreds of units of affordable housing since the program began in the 1980s by eliminating the cost of land.
But they say the process of obtaining local permits can be time-consuming.
“It’s a very long process. It takes an extremely long amount of time to start building,” said Peter Elkowitz, president and CEO of Long Island Housing Partnership. The Hauppauge-based developer has 26 properties in Brookhaven and Islip that remain undeveloped more than seven years after the county transferred them, the most of any of the 14 nonprofit housing developers with older properties. Typically, the towns and villages give the properties to the nonprofits, or charge them only a nominal fee.
For instance, the partnership has six parcels in Bellport that remain undeveloped while the agency tries to assemble nearby properties for a larger single-family housing development, Elkowitz said.
Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk controls 18 properties that are past the seven-year deadline, according to county records. The nonprofit said it is in the process of building on the lots where possible and will deed back lots it can’t develop.
“The process to develop the land obtained is complex and requires a multitier approach to ensure that projects adhere to all building ordinances and represent the highest quality of safety and craftsmanship,” Diane Burke, executive director and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk, said in a statement.
The Community Development Corp. of Long Island has one property that the county transferred to Brookhaven Town in April 2009. That property, in Middle Island, is under construction and a home buyer has been identified, said Marianne Garvin, president and CEO of the nonprofit.
Town officials all said the program was useful and attributed delays to a variety of factors.
Diana Weir, Brookhaven’s commissioner of housing and human services, said the 2008 housing downturn set back many developments.
“The vagaries of the market made it difficult to build and many of the houses are in depressed areas, where there are already inexpensive homes,” she said.
Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer said properties have been delayed because of difficulties in getting funding or finding home buyers who meet income eligibility requirements.
Islip spokeswoman Caroline Smith said in a statement that getting approvals, even from local town boards, can cause delays. It also can take time for the nonprofits to secure funding to subsidize construction, Smith said.
“The town of Islip has and will continue to strive to make affordable housing available in the most expeditious manner possible,” Smith said.
But Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), who opposes most extensions, said the county needs the money from sales of the properties.
“We’re flat broke,” Trotta said.
LOTS AWAITING HOUSES
Ninety properties that Suffolk County gave to towns and villages to build affordable housing have sat undeveloped for more than seven years. Vacant properties, by municipality:
East Hampton: 2
Westhampton Beach: 1
Source: Suffolk County