A blighted and decaying house in Orient, ransacked by raccoons and littered with debris, could soon see new life through Habitat for Humanity.
The Southold Town board met with representatives from Habitat for Humanity at their work session Tuesday to discuss a proposed plan to raze the existing home, located at 55 Green Way in Orient, to make way for a Habitat for Humanity project.
In order to commence, Phillip Beltz, Southold's special projects coordinator, said, Suffolk County has reached out and asked if there is an interest in participating in the county's 72-H program.
72-H properties are those that have been previously seized by Suffolk County for non-payment of back taxes. They are later deeded to local municipalities with the understanding that the properties be rehabilitated for use as affordable housing.
The property in Orient, Beltz said, was seized by the county after owners defaulted on taxes.
Beltz said a neighbor had reached out to the town and county and asked if there was anything that could be done to remediate blight at the site.
The plan, Beltz said, would involve having ownership of the property transferred to Southold Town, then working with Habitat for Humanity to construct a new home that would be affordable in perpetuity.
The first step, Town Attorney Martin Finnegan said, would be for the town board to pass a resolution authorizing the town to move forward with conveyance of a title for the parcel from the county through its 72-H program.
Beltz said the property, as it currently exists, is a "hazard." Raccoons have torn holes through the roof and walls and debris is scattered throughout; the structure he added, is a "tear down."
Diane Burke, interim director for Habitat for Humanity, addressed the board and said Habitat for Humanity would require covenants and restrictions so that anyone who buys the home would need to be within 80 percent of the area's median income, to ensure affordability.
Southold Town Supervisor said in the past, a Habitat for Humanity project was suggested for Greenport but there was significant "community pushback."
However, he added, based on the blight that currently exists at the site, "this is unique," and said neighbors would likely welcome an improvement and a new home in comparison.
Burke said Habitat for Humanity's program has changed in recent years, with an emphasis on preparing individuals on how to be homeowners; classes are offered in a range of areas. And, she added, all potential homeowners are screened to ensure they are financially able to meet guidlelines and afford mortagage payments and pay taxes.
"We're really working with people to be successful," she said.
The homes, she added, include three to four bedrooms, are constructed to green standards and energy efficient, and are not only affordable, but "beautiful."
The goal, board members agreed, would be to find a local individual who might live and work in Southold.
Russell said since the own has created an affordable housing registry, he'd like to be able to cull potential applicants from the already compiled list of locals.
Burke said partnering with the town to find suitable applicants would be "a huge help."
After a homeowner is chosen, she said, the family works with Habitat for Humanity through "sweat equity" to actually build the home themselves. Habitat for Humanity deals with only home ownership, not rentals, she said.
Southold Town Councilman Chris Talbot said he was "amazed by the pushback" the first proposed Habitat for Humanity project received in Greenport and said he was supportive of the project in Orient.
New Councilman Jim Dinizio said he felt contractors might not want to drive all the way to Orient to build the house.
"We build the house," Burke reminded. "We drive the nails."
Talbot asked about a timeline and whether the project might be done by fall.
Approvals, health department and building permits, construction, and finding a homeowner all take time, Burke said, adding that fall was not likely.
The board agreed to move forward with a resolution to transfer the property from the county.
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