Sag Harbor, New York
Briefly describe the situation in your area.
Our East End of Long Island, which I term the Peconic Region, is a classic seasonal resort beach community that is close to a major city (two hours from New York City).
We have approximately 150,000 permanent residents and swell to 500,000 from Memorial Day to Labor Day each year. Development pressure has existed for generations, but especially since the baby boom generation spread their wings in the late ‘90s and gentrified the region, especially the South Fork, also known as the Hamptons. Thousands of acres have been developed, and thousands of homes have been put in dumpsters, to make way for new homes with pool, tennis, theaters, and gyms to meet the requirements of that generation.
What are you working to protect?
Our local community. We have a lack of affordable, workforce, and senior housing in the Peconic Region and our locals and their youngsters don't have enough good jobs to choose from to provide the income needed to live here. More and more teachers, municipal employees, service staff, and business owners travel into and out of the area on a daily basis, both causing intolerable traffic on our two-lane ingress/egress roads and also damage to the fabric of our local communities. Wouldn't you prefer to have your child's teacher live in the community and have a greater investment in, and accountability to, your family? The same with law enforcement? We are not in a sustainable place. We are way out of balance, losing our identity and the local character that has attracted people to our region for 200 years.
What is the biggest obstacle you face?
The cost of land and the lack of a municipal government that is solely responsible for our destiny. We have done a great job with conserving land through the [Peconic Bay Region] Community Preservation Fund that collects a 2% tax on each home purchase and has used over $1 billion to purchase land as open space. This has made land more scarce and caused values to skyrocket. In addition, having 50% of the geography, but only 10% of the population of Suffolk County, New York, we have little representation in county government and receive inadequate support for economic development and social programs.
Is there a leader of your group or is it led by committee?
East End YIMBY is one year young and there are lots of budding YIMBYs buzzing around the area. We have formed the NextGen Housing Collaborative in our Progressive East End Reformers chapter of NYPAN [New York Progressive Action Network] and are collaborating with numerous community and local government leaders.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned since you started working on this issue?
That NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yarders) and CAVE People (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) dominate the discussion at local government meetings unless YIMBYs (Yes In My Back Yarders) stand up and speak. If local politicians only hear from NIMBYs and CAVE People, that's what they think the public wants! YIMBYs need to get off the couch and attend meetings to have their voices heard.
How do trophy homes affect affordable housing?
Protectionism—people with big houses don’t want less affluent people around them, because of economic and cultural discrimination.
The "sprawl" created by trophy and seasonal homes, where people are seeking privacy, creates a dilution of community and density that disconnects people.
Old-style development was villages, built on the least attractive land, typically hills or in valleys, surrounded by the farmland that the community used to feed or produce things for themselves. Now—in this area, at least—the farmland is scattered with private estates, and the villages are dead after 6 p.m. People don’t live in the villages, because the shops have been taken over by real estate firms and Ralph Lauren and Tumi shops for the wealthy. And the shops can't have apartments over them because of water quality and the lack of water treatment facilities to deal with the sewage.
What if a house isn't a trophy home but is seasonal—how does that affect affordable housing?
Seasonal homes take economic vitality out of the market, because the owners require fewer goods and services, therefore requiring fewer people, fewer jobs.
Seasonal residents have less "stake" in the community, and are therefore not "caring" as deeply about the welfare and needs of community members. They just want what they want when they are there, and don’t see the deep, everyday needs of community members.
Sag Harbor and Greenport are the only villages on the East End that have sewage treatment facilities that allow the [population] density to create a vibrant and sustainable community. Southampton, East Hampton, Bridgehampton, Amagansett, and the other villages have just become billboards for the luxury brands to operate in the summer, then brown paper up their shops for the winter. Local people don’t have access to shoemakers, dry cleaners, butchers, etc., and therefore travel 20-35 miles to the big-box shops in Riverhead every other week, to shop for the house.