Of zombies and yuppies


In the next two years, up to 100 vacant, abandoned or neglected Kingston houses are expected to be occupied, spruced up or converted to owner-occupied housing. Under a pair of state programs announced June 7 aimed at strengthening blighted neighborhoods in Kingston and five other communities in the state with a high concentration of zombie properties — properties no one is taking care of — up to $20,000 per applicant will be available not only for creating new homeowner opportunities but also for helping current homeowners stay in and fix up their homes. There is a good possibility the state will release additional housing rehabilitation funds to boost local efforts.

The state funding was awarded in response to applications by Kingston-based RUPCO (Rural Ulster Preservation Company), the regional provider of and advocate for quality affordable housing. Aimed squarely at community revitalization, the new state support is offered at zero interest, does not increase mortgage payments, and is forgiven over time. The program will be available citywide.

What opportunities might this recent availability of outside resources to support Kingston’s housing stock create? Could these resources be successfully leveraged with others to create a real difference in quality of life in Kingston’s neighborhoods? How could they collaborate with a private real-estate marketplace that seems to be attracting increased attention from young urban refugees from New Your City?


The recently announced programs are causing a buzz in the local banking industry, which sees a window of opportunity for its participation. “We’re looking for ways to be involved,” said Rondout Savings Bank president Jim Davenport. “It’s on our radar screen. We see the potential and want to drill deeper.”

Davenport said the area’s community banks may explore working together to provide a higher level of assistance. “It’s one of our discussion items here,” he said. He sees a coordinated effort creating what he calls “a win-win-win-win situation.”

The political world is not unaware of what’s going on. Kingston’s city government is preparing a new local law to establish a registration system for properties that have been vacant a year or longer. Mayor Steve Noble describes the legislation, which he expects to go to a legislative committee this week, as designed to provide a financial incentive for building owners “not just to sit on them.” Noble, who did not return a phone call, also said he would improve coordination among city departments to handle the zombie properties on the city’s tax rolls and other problems.

Saddled with the expenses that come with aging infrastructure, city government is anxious to increase Kingston’s tax base, something in recent decades the city has not been very successful in doing. Because residential properties are big consumers of municipal services, an increase of residential properties won’t necessarily lower anybody’s taxes. A big increase in a diversified tax base will do that, but then there might be problems with gentrification and a decline in the stock of affordable housing.

RUPCO executive director Kevin O’Connor will explain the new funding at an outreach session with the local real-estate industry at 9 a.m. Wednesday, June 29, at the Kirkland hotel building on the corner of Clinton Avenue and Main Street. O’Connor would like to see more owner-occupied homes. Home ownership in some of the depressed Midtown census tracts is “in the teens,” he said. According to 2010 census data, Kingston had 10,217 occupied housing units and 930 not occupied. Citywide at that time, there were 5470 occupied rental units and 4747 owner-occupied housing units.

Housing costs in Kingston, whether via home ownership or rentals, are lower than in most Ulster County municipalities. You will pay less buying a house in Kingston than renting in Brooklyn.

“People are practical and know that buying, when factoring in today’s historically low mortgage rates, is currently more affordable than it has been in several decades, and that buying is currently a much better deal than renting in many metros across the country,” recently noted Stan Humphries of Zillow. With housing prices and mortgage rates stable, Humphries thinks, buying is becoming an even better deal all the time. He cited a recent survey showing that 84 percent of those 18 to 34 years of age intend to buy homes. (Though they self-identify as millennials, I think of them as yuppies.)

Finally, Humphries’ best guess is that the biggest winners in the housing market two decades from now are going to be small- to mid-sized cities, some close to larger metros and others more distant. Small and mid-sized cities are poised to do well over the next couple of decades.

Like Kingston.

Why did the Zillow executive think that these communities are going to fare better than rest? Because they’re close enough to where the jobs will continue to be.

“The suburbs and exurbs around large coastal metros like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Miami, and D.C. have grown in large part because of strong job creation in these markets paired with rising home prices close to the urban core,” Humphries continued. “New arrivals coming to these markets in search of jobs often end up living in the suburbs or exurbs to find affordable housing. Or they rent housing in the urban core until they marry and have children, moving out in order to find a bigger home they can afford.”

I think that his analysis is largely correct.

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