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Suffolk to turn over 8 properties to house homeless veterans

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone attends a news

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone attends a news conference in Greenport on May 5, 2015. Credit: Randee Daddona

The Suffolk County Legislature approved a bill to donate eight parcels of land to nonprofit groups for housing homeless veterans after a tense debate over whether certain areas are overburdened by group homes and subsidized housing.

County Executive Steve Bellone, along with bill sponsor Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) announced the "Housing our Homeless Heroes Act" in July, to transfer the properties seized by the county for unpaid taxes to nonprofit groups.

The nonprofits will rent five single-family houses, a duplex and two four-unit buildings to veterans and their families selected by the organizations and the county Veterans Service Agency. Rent will be set according to residents' incomes and will be federally subsidized.

Three of the properties are in Central Islip, two are in Medford, and Copiague, Flanders and Mastic have one each.

But in an hourlong debate at the legislature late Wednesday night, some lawmakers expressed concern about placing too many units in individual communities.

"You cannot saturate the same communities again and again," said Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley), whose district includes a four-unit site for four homeless veterans in Mastic. She noted that the veterans homes would not pay property taxes, increasing taxes for surrounding homes, she said.

Legis. Lou D'Amaro (D-North Babylon) responded, "These are exactly the type of roadblocks we should not be putting in front of our veterans. What are you saying, you want to screen the vets, to make sure they're good enough to live in your community?"

Browning, whose husband retired from the Army and whose son is in the New York Air National Guard, noted that none of the locations are in D'Amaro's district.

"I would welcome them with open arms." D'Amaro said.

Administration officials eventually called Thomas Ronayne, the county's director of the Veterans Service Agency, at home.

Ronayne, who arrived at the Legislative Building in Hauppauge late Wednesday night, testified that the veterans would be assets to the communities.

"While I appreciate your apprehension on some level, I'm excited about this," he told Browning.

Bellone spokesman Justin Meyers said he didn't believe housing one to four veterans, "was a burden. It would be a shame if anyone did. We're committed to serving those who served us."

The resolution passed unanimously.

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