Affordable housing audit baffles town
Brookhaven Town failed to fully abide by New York’s affordable housing law, according to a state comptroller audit.
The audit, released Jan. 8, singled out eight governments across Long Island, including Brookhaven, zeroing in on their compliance with the Long Island Workforce Housing Act. State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (D) said the town “generally complied” with the act, but did not properly manage an optional trust fund set aside for affordable housing.
The Long Island Workforce Housing Act was passed in 2008 to require developers building five or more homes on a property to allocate 10 percent of their prospective residential units to affordable workforce housing units, meant for people earning up to about $105,000. The law also said that developers could avoid building affordable housing units by paying a fee to the town, which would be deposited into a trust fund for the purpose of building affordable housing.
The towns of Babylon, Huntington, Islip and North Hempstead and the villages of Hempstead, Farmingdale and Mineola were also evaluated in the audit. Each government either reached or exceeded the 10 percent affordable housing requirement, the audit said.
However, in the audit DiNapoli said Brookhaven adopted a resolution in August 2014 establishing a housing trust fund, but did not set up guidelines and procedures establishing how the expenditures from that fund would be used until September 2015 — which was later than the mandated six-month timeframe required to set up those rules.
The audit noted that “there have been no expenditures from the trust fund during the audit period.”
But Brookhaven officials said they did not agree with the comptroller’s assessment. Diana Weir, commissioner of Housing and Human Services in Brookhaven, said the town was in full compliance before the comptroller released the audit.
“The issue with Brookhaven is that we’ve never given a developer that option,” Weir said about the fees for the fund, which was not mandatory to create. “To us [making developers build the affordable units was] better because we are actually building the units. But just in case we figured we’d [establish] a trust fund.”
Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said he was unhappy with the state’s assessment that the town only generally complied with the law. Because the town makes developers build affordable homes instead of paying to avoid the requirement, there isn’t any money in the trust fund account, Romaine said.
Of Brookhaven’s 924 housing units, 10 percent are affordable workforce housing units, according to the audit.
“What did Brookhaven do wrong?” Romaine (R) asked in a phone interview. “If Brookhaven required [developers] to build [affordable homes], why did we need a trust fund account? We’re actually fulfilling the law.”
In the preliminary draft of the audit, the comptroller suggested the town establish guidelines for the fund. That suggestion came several days after Brookhaven established rules for the fund. Despite this, the final audit didn’t reflect or acknowledge the change.
Brookhaven has always required developers to make affordable homes. During the recession, developers needed to allocate 20 percent of the residential units for affordable housing. Weir said purchasing affordable homes at the time was easier for prospective homeowners as prices of homes dropped. The town dropped the requirement to 10 percent once the market started improving.
“What the audit should have said is, ‘We recommend in the future that you set [the affordable workforce housing trust fund] up, but you’ve complied,’” Romaine said.