Affordable? Not Even Close

    A report on housing in East Hampton, prepared by a group of volunteers, outlines the challenges faced here, where the rise in housing costs has far outstripped increases in income and the population of schoolchildren has resulted in a heavy tax burden in certain districts.
    The group was asked to come up with some baseline data for the town board to use as basis for discussions on how to provide more affordable housing here.
    At a meeting on Tuesday, the town board heard from members of the group, which was formed after a proposal by Town Councilwoman Theresa Quigley last year, which would have legalized illegal accessory apartments, drew criticism and ignited an impassioned discussion of housing abuses and needs.
    “The community reaction caused us to take a step back,” Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said. Called the “housing needs discussion group,” its members include residents as well as town employees and officials.
    The information in their report was compiled using United States Census data and information provided by school districts as well as a thorough a review of 31 town planning documents and studies, said Eric Schantz, a town planner who was part of the committee, at Tuesday’s meeting.
    Mr. Schantz highlighted some of the details in sections of the report on land use, townwide and by school district, demographics, housing affordability, and the student population.
    There is a “disproportionate” distribution of year-round housing throughout the town’s five school districts, Mr. Schantz said, with the Springs district having the highest percentage. Springs also has the highest mean family size, at 3.6 people, compared to 2.4 in Amagansett, and has four times more students per square mile, on average, than the rest of the town.
    “The cost of houses has outpaced the increase in income on the entire East End, but this is striking in East Hampton,” Mr. Schantz said. While median income has increased by 64 percent since 2000, the median home price here has gone up by 310 percent, to $823,000.
    According to federal guidelines, housing is considered affordable if it costs no more than 30 percent of income. With the median family income in East Hampton in 2010 at $94,352, Mr. Schantz said, that calculation means that housing costs should be no more than $2,026 per month.
     Sixty percent of tenants, and half of all homeowners, are paying more than that for housing here.
    “I’m stunned in part by some of this data, and the amount of work that needs to be done on affordable housing,” said Councilman Dominick Stanzione after Mr. Schantz’s presentation. “And to see such a huge percentage of our population living in, strictly defined, unaffordable housing.”
    The town has consistently defined two goals since the adoption of its initial comprehensive plan in 1966, Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said at Tuesday’s meeting: to retain rural character and natural resources, and to provide adequate affordable housing for the year-round population.
    “East Hampton Town succeeded in fulfilling its first goal,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “East Hampton Town failed in fulfilling its second goal.”
    Since, 1960, he said, the year-round population has increased by almost 250 percent, from 8,827 to 21,103, but housing units for year-round residents grew by only 175 percent, from 4,750 in 1960 to approximately 8,500 today. Meanwhile the total number of housing units has reached 21,457.
    In 1960, 90 percent of the houses in East Hampton were owned by year-round residents, Mr. Wilkinson said, while today, that number is only 40 percent.
    “The combined impact of the increased number of second-home owners building expensive homes and the dedication of close to 50 percent of the available land to open space has led to a serious shortage of affordable housing for local people. We have learned that there is a current need of approximately 2,200 affordable housing units in East Hampton Town. We have just 330 affordable units today,” he said, reading from prepared remarks.
    “After reviewing, studying, and analyzing all of the information collected, the next question we must ask ourselves is: Where are we going? Will we determine the needs of our town and act upon them? Or will we just keep going along with blinders on? The future of our town is at stake and to resolve the issues facing us today, we must come together as one community and act in the best interest of us all. Reacting as individual hamlets will not solve our problems,” Mr. Wilkinson read.
    “It’s important for us to agree on, that these are the numbers, and how we see our town,” he commented. “The real important stuff starts from here. We’ll continue to have some passionate, healthy, vibrant discussions,” he said.