The fight over subsidized housing in Saugerties

Photo by Will Dendis

Photo by Will Dendis

Does Saugerties need 55 more units of affordable rental housing? Some local landlords say no and vow to fight the Country Meadows project on North St. approved by the Planning Board last month. But the Rural Ulster Preservation Company (RUPCO), a partner in the project, points to a study that says the current rental housing stock is too expensive for local incomes.

“We are very much opposed to this project,” said realtor Steve Hubbard, who owns several rental properties. “There are about 10 vacancies at the 50-unit Skyline Woods development. And up until recently, of the eight units I have in one of my buildings, four were vacant. And these are affordable,” Hubbard insists, renting for about $650 monthly for a one-bedroom unit.

Hubbard believes Country Meadows will “undermine the existing rental market.”

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Country Meadows developers have said a one-bedroom unit will lease for between $350 and $400 monthly, with two-bedroom units for about $600. Hubbard said his units rent for $650 for a one-bedroom, and $750 for a two-bedroom plus utilities, which he feels is well within the means of local residents.

“There is no need for affordable units because these are affordable,” Hubbard said.

Kevin O’Connor disagrees. The chief executive officer of RUPCO cites the 2009 Tri-County Housing Study, which looked at every community in Ulster, Dutchess and Orange counties. The study assumes housing should cost no more than 30 percent of income. It said 305 units will have to be built by 2015 and another 378 existing units subsidized to fully meet the demand in Saugerties. (According to the 2010 census, there are 3,500 rental units in the town and village.) The study is available on the Ulster County Planning Department’s website.

O’Connor cited the 53-unit Woodstock Commons project. Like Country Meadows, it’s a mix of senior and workforce housing. It had 309 applicants by Oct. 1, and since then there have been an additional 40 or 50.

“This indicates a need,” O’Connor said. “This area needs a cross-section of senior and family affordable housing. We have an aging population and we need quality, affordable, energy efficient, accessible and visitable housing.” O’Connor said that many rentals throughout the Saugerties area are not accessible and visitable for physically disabled individuals.

Hubbard said he knows all about Woodstock Commons because one of his newest tenants is from New York City and is on the waiting list for a unit there. “But he can afford to live here while he waits for a unit there, so where is the need?” Hubbard asked.

“RUPCO says that many of those who will rent these units in Saugerties will be from the area, but my tenant is from New York City.”

O’Connor said the numbers show the vacancy rate is very low.

“Just look at the market,” he said. The county planning department lists vacancy rates and they show that the rate is under 5 percent, he said. “It’s difficult to find places.”

Another landlord, attorney Erica Guerin, said the more important question was, what was the town doing to improve the local economy so that a growing need for affordable housing wouldn’t be a problem.

“I have a mixed feeling about this housing development,” Guerin said. “There seems to be a problem of Saugerties trying to figure out what it wants to be.”

“What we really need to do is increase our tax base, by bringing in companies to create jobs,” she added, “then people will make enough money to afford to rent apartments, and continue to keep their homes.”

“I’m not hearing of a clamoring for more housing,” Guerin said. “People who are here want better jobs. We are so ideally located right off the Thruway, close to New York City and Albany and only four hours from Montreal. I’m not anti-affordable housing, but pro-Saugerties, and we need to give our residents a chance to stay here.” Guerin said she thinks the best way to do that is by more and better jobs rather than more apartments.

Next up for Hubbard: try to convince the Town Board not to approve a PILOT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) agreement with the developer. Such agreements are important for developers seeking state funding because they indicate local support. Local projects are frequently turned down even with PILOT agreements, and Premier Development was passed over several times for a senior-only development at the same location.

According to village Mayor Bill Murphy, the terms of the agreement are already complete, and call for payments of $400 per unit per year. In addition, the developer has agreed to pay for sidewalks from the development to Cantine Field, a block away.

 

Defining affordable

Hubbard’s units range from $650 to $750 monthly, plus utilities. Guerin said her units go for $700 to $800 for a one-bedroom unit and $800 to $1,000 for a two-bedroom unit. Last week’s Saugerties Times classifieds section listed four apartments for rent. One listing is from Hubbard (with the added description of “charming and rustic” with exposed beams and wood floors) and starts at $650/mo. Another is an upstairs apartment in the village for $750/mo with some utilities included and the third is a one-bedroom house in the village for $750/mo plus utilities. The fourth listing is for a two-bedroom apartment for $800/mo plus utilities.

Estimating utilities at about $125 a month on a unit at $650/mo, a single person would need to take home about $645 per week; around $45,000 per year to pay less than 30 percent of their income for housing. That’s not possible for a large share of the single people in Saugerties: the median income in Saugerties is about $39,600 for men and $27,200 for women. But if those same people share a two-bedroom or cohabitate in a one-bedroom, the income needs drop precipitously and these units become very affordable; just over $380 apiece per month. For children, three-bedroom apartments are less common, but assuming $1,100 per month, with utilities, it works out to about $460 per adult; roughly the weekly take-home pay of someone who earns $30,000 a year.

Based on this admittedly ad hoc number crunching, local rentals are reasonably affordable for gainfully employed couples and small families, but not for many single people (or single-income households), the unemployed or disabled — to say nothing of supply and location, which would require more than a calculator, tax-rate table and classified ad page.

 

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