Appeared in Newsday on Sunday, May 24, 2015.
HAMPTONS HOUSING CRUNCH - LOCALS LOSE OUT
BY WILL JAMES
HIGH-PRICED VACATION RENTAL MARKET SPURS LANDLORDS TO SPURN YEAR-ROUND TENANTS
Hamptons residents are being forced to live in the spare rooms of friends and relatives - and even tents in some cases - as landlords trade their year-round tenants for seasonal vacationers willing to pay hundreds of dollars a night or thousands a month to summer on the East End.
Housing officials said the seasonal rental trend is worsening an already serious affordable- housing shortage and is pushing year-round residents to less-pricey communities in Riverhead and Brookhaven towns, adding more commuters to traffic congestion on South Fork roadways.
Drew Charles, 47, an East Hampton carpenter who created a Facebook group in 2013 to connect Hamptons renters with available homes, said the housing crisis has eroded what was a tight-knit community of South Fork locals - fishermen, tradespeople, retirees, middle-class professionals and service-industry workers who lived and worked there year-round.
"It's not a community anymore" he said. "It's vacationland."
The Facebook group, called Bonac Year-Round Rentals, has more than 1,000 members and a page filled with pleas for housing.
"The landlords can get more money for less time and less impact to their homes" by turning them into summer rentals, said Curtis Highsmith Jr., director of the Southampton Housing Authority. "That's the bottom line."
The Hamptons attract some of the world's wealthiest people each summer. But 80,000 year-round residents live and work among them.
"People make jokes all the time that I do affordable housing in East Hampton," said Tom Ruhle, East Hampton Town's housing director. "The truth of the matter is, for the year-round population and the service community, it's a very expensive place to live."
Hamptons real estate has broken records over the past three years as the luxury housing market recovered from the recession. Year-round residents said the cost of buying a house has soared out of reach.
The Hamptons' median home price reached $920,500 in the first three month of the year, triple the western Suffolk County median of $303,000, appraisal company Miller Samuel Inc. reported.
Rental properties also have been swept up in the trend. Homeowners are turning to websites such as Airbnb and HomeAway to rent out properties for as much as $1,200 a night or $11,500 a week.
Apartments now a resort
Rick Gibbs, a Montauk landlord, converted his 14-unit apartment complex into a lakeside resort this summer. He said it was hard to displace tenants he had befriended, but it had become to expensive to maintain the apartments in the winter and he can make just as much running them as a resort open May through October.
"Our costs went up immensely," said Gibbs, who also owns Rick's Crabby Cowboy Cafe in Montauk. "The people who lived here year-round, they couldn't afford more [rent]. It was a real quandary....We couldn't do another winter."
Laurie Gibbs, his wife, said the couple charged about $1,000 a month for year-round rentals but will charge about $2,000 a week this summer for seasonal stays. Next summer, they plan to charge $14,000 to $18,000 upfront for May through October, she said.
Pamela Greinke said she had a lease that expired last July, but decided to stay month-to-month in her Southampton rental in par because of the difficulty of finding a new home for herself and her 17-year-old daughter. That became a reality as she spent April scrambling to find a home after their landlord to them they had to leave by the end of the month.
They found no year-round rentals available for miles, and resigned to staying with a friend for the summer. Greinke said her budget was $1,500 plus utilities.
"Technically, we're homeless," said Greinke, 51, who works for an East End non-profit and has rented in the area for 20 years.
In New York State, verbal leases are valid for one year, according to the state's website. Without a lease, a landlord can remove a tenant after giving one month's notice.
Stephen Grossman, a Sag Harbor attorney who has handled landlord-tenant cases, said renters can be evicted for not paying rent or staying after a lease expires, and noted the process can take about three months. But under most circumstances, a binding lease does protect renters, he said.
"You can't evict them because you want to make the house a summer rental," Grossman said.
On May 11, a woman posted on the Bonac Year-Round Rentals Facebook page that she had to move out of her home by May 30 and would "buy an RV if anyone knows of one."
"We will figure out where to put it," she wrote. "Plz someone help us."
High poverty rates
Affordable housing is generally considered housing that costs 30 percent or less of a household's monthly income. Of Long Island's 13 towns, East Hampton and Southampton have the highest poverty rates after Riverhead, according to data compiled by Suffolk County.
In East Hampton, 7.6 percent of year-round residents lived below the poverty line in the period form 2007 to 2011, according to a 2013 Suffolk County analysis. In Southampton, the figure was 7.4 percent.
Julie Havens, 23, lives in Amagansett with her father, a fisherman. she said her family recently signed up for food stamps and she has little hope of being able to rent a place on her own in East Hampton. She is looking at rentals in the Carolinas and California.
"People are really struggling out here," she said.
East Hampton and Southampton officials have had challenges building affordable rental housing, in part because of high land costs and neighborhood opposition to development.
Tuckahoe residents sued Southampton officials last year after the town board approved a 28-unit affordable housing apartment complex. The lawsuit is pending. The Wainscott school board has voiced opposition to the efforts of a nonprofit developer seeking to build 48 affordable apartments in East Hampton, fearing an influx of students into the district’s small schoolhouse, which has 15 students in kindergarten to third grade.
“Not only did we have to deal with the NIMBYism, but because we’re the Hamptons and there’s moneyed NIMBYism here, we now have to deal with an Article 78 that we have to defend with taxpayer dollars,” Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said of the Tuckahoe case, using an acronym for “not in my backyard,” and referring to a state law that allows appeals of state and local government decisions.
Shortage of workers seen
Throne-Holst, who is planning a regional summit on housing this summer, said the lack of affordable year-round homes has made it difficult for Hamptons businesses, schools and hospitals to find workers and for fire departments to recruit volunteers.
East Hampton Town officials and developers created 550 units of affordable housing between 1980 and 2010, but demand has far eclipsed that, said Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell.
“It’s a critically important issue out here,” he said.
The supply-and-demand imbalance led Montauk fisherman David Lundeen, 26, to pitch a tent in the hamlet’s tick-infested woods two years ago after he was unable to find a rental. He said he camped out for six months, careful to avoid detection by neighbors and police.
“There’s the constant worry of getting caught, because if you get caught you get arrested,” Lundeen said. “I don’t want that label of being a hobo.”
Several residents said the rental housing shortage is most acute in Montauk, which has undergone a rapid change over the past five years from a quirky fishing and surfing hamlet to a high-priced Hamptons destination.
Ray Giannantoni, 61, who has lived in Montauk for 45 years, was drawn from Yonkers as a teenager by the prospect of working on fishing boats. Housing was always scarce, but he said it has all but disappeared, especially since restaurants and hotels began snapping up rentals for their staffs.
Giannantoni, who lived in Gibbs’ complex, said he found a new rental — for $1,000 a month — days before work started to convert the apartments into a lakeside resort.
“We’re getting pushed out,” Giannantoni said of year-round renters. “We can’t afford to stay and we can’t afford to leave.”
Emily Campbell, a mother of two who lives in Springs, said she can’t afford to wait for a lucky break. For the past two years, she and her boyfriend have rented together in the winter, but separated and moved in with their families each summer.
At the end of the month, Campbell, 26, said she is packing up her car and moving with her boyfriend and children to North Carolina. She said the state reminds her of how East Hampton used to be.
“I don’t want to leave my friends. My daughter doesn’t want to have to leave her school,” Campbell said. “But at this point, we don’t have an option.”