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Housing Project Back on Agenda for Northport

by Niall Fitzgerald

The lame-duck Huntington Town Board put on its December agenda, the approval of a land-use change for a controversial proposed low-income welfare housing development, just a few hundred feet away from Northport High School, called "Matinecock Court." The proposed welfare housing project has haunted Huntington for over 43 years. Its sponsor, a left-wing activist group called "Housing Help," has repeatedly sued Huntington claiming that Huntington residents are bigoted and racist.

The proposed housing project, on a 14.5 acre parcel of natural woods at the intersection of Pulaski and Elwood Roads, has morphed over the decades from an all-welfare housing project, to - most recently - a 146-unit mixed-use development, with mostly owner-occupied condominiums, and a small number of affordable welfare apartments. Suffolk County's Steve Bellone (D-Babylon) earlier this year pledged millions in taxpayer funds to develop that mixed-use project.

But in a last minute "bait and switch," Housing Help has now applied to the Huntington Town Board for a development use change - making the entire project a "limited equity" apartment project. "Limited equity" means that tenants would receive "stock shares" with their lease - but could not sell or mortgage the shares, and could only sell the shares back to Housing Help at a fixed price.

"Limited equity is a scam," stated local attorney Mark Demetropoulos. "A tenant gets a piece of paper called a "limited stock certificate" but the paper money in the game Monopoly has more value. Anytime you can not mortgage or sell something - and then then have to sell it back to the guy who sold it to you at the price they set - you don't really own anything."

"Housing Help seems to be modeling this project on a coal mining town. Where a coal worker works for the mining corporation that owns the mine and entire company town," he added. "You work for the mine corporation; every store is owned by the corporation; you live in housing owned by the corporation; and the movie theater, dance hall and bank are all owned by the corporation. You own nothing and are basically a serf - or a slave worker - to the corporation."

At Thursday's Town Board meeting, the Board had already "tabled" Housing Help's re-zoning proposal until the new Town Board takes over in January.

But then - hours after the matter was tabled - Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D-Halesite) re-introduced the proposal for December's lame-duck meeting. Cergol was actively lobbied and pressured by Housing Help and the project developer.

"We can discuss a lot of our questions later," stated Cergol. "But at the moment, I’m very satisfied with this and very confident and prepared to sponsor this resolution."

Councilman Ed Smyth - who was elected Town Supervisor and will take office on January 1st - opposed the lame-duck attempt to ram through the controversial zoning changes.

"My biggest objection is that this is a deception perpetrated on the public. This is a rental project,” stated Smyth. “The limited equity given as a down payment is really a security deposit."

The welfare housing project has been stalled before. Over the decades, Huntington council members denounced the project as a "slum housing" project. Neighbors in East Northport blasted the site-location, high density of the project, and obvious environmental impact of replacing 14.5 acres of pristine natural woods with a hive of asphalt, buildings, air conditioning machines and hundreds of automobiles.

Many urban land use experts also criticized the project as being poorly sited - in the middle of a leafy suburban neighborhood and nowhere near a mass transit hub. Back in the late 1990's, former Governor Pataki (R) pulled state funding for the project, and the Northport Fire Department refused to certify a project so dense that fire engines could not enter the project to fight a fire.

"This project is designed by Housing Help to bring crime and drugs into our neighborhood," stated former civic association leader Ginny Volpe at a 1996 meeting opposing the project in East Northport. "They just want to punish us."


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