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Editorial: Southold's positive steps to help renters

Town Beach is on North Road and overlooks

Town Beach is on North Road and overlooks the Long Island Sound. During the summer, restrooms, a picnic area and playground are available for visitors. (Feb. 16, 2011) Credit: Erin Geismar

Like many municipalities, Southold suffers from a lack of affordable housing. Now, the town board is seeking a systemic solution.

The board is considering a law that would allow developers to build affordable rental housing even if the property owner lives elsewhere. Currently, only certain kinds of accessory apartments are allowed, and the owner of the dwelling is required to live on the premises. The legislation also would establish a clear and simple formula for determining how much density would be permitted in any affordable housing development. The board is holding a public hearing today on the proposal and seems likely to pass it immediately afterward.

It has been eight long years since we praised Southold for working with a nonprofit on a development of 22 affordable homes. With that success to build on, Southold finally is joining the regional battle to create more affordable rentals, an issue in which proposals often get derailed by firestorms of local opposition, much of it driven by groundless fears.

The board is acting because it sees how difficult it is for young adults in Southold to find housing they can afford. Supervisor Scott Russell says the town's biggest export is its young people. The board also wants to give its senior citizens more options to stay in Southold when they begin to downsize. Most of Long Island faces the same problems.

Southold, which has no sewers, lacks the infrastructure to support the density that affordable housing demands. Officials plan to address that, too, perhaps by requiring on-site sewage treatment plants.

Residents have been strongly supportive of the legislation, Russell says, but he also acknowledges that protests nevertheless are likely over specific sites for affordable housing. He says board members are prepared to work to overcome those objections. Good for them.

By proposing this legislation and stating its resolve to follow through, Southold is making a clear commitment to solving one of Long Island's most vexing problems.