A proposal to create 66 units of low-income supported housing at a historic site on Flatbush Avenue will have its first public hearing next week.
Project sponsors RUPCO say that the proposed “Landmark Place” at the site of the former Kingston Almshouse will fill a desperate need for affordable supported housing for the elderly, disabled and recently homeless. But opponents of the proposal argue that the property could have been put to more profitable use, and neighbors speaking at recent city planning board meetings have expressed concerns the project will decrease their homes’ values.
A public hearing for the Landmark Place proposal before the city planning board is set for Tuesday, Feb. 28 at 6 p.m. in the Common Council chambers at City Hall, 420 Broadway. RUPCO is seeking a zoning change (the area is currently zoned for single-family homes). The zoning change also needs approval from the Kingston Common Council. If it’s approved, the housing nonprofit can apply for the site’s inclusion in the state and national register of historic places — a designation that will clear the way for tax credits to help fund the project. The planning board has signed off on a zoning change but in its resolution of support stated the exact nature of that change should be determined by the Common Council.
The three-story Italianate-style building at 300 Flatbush Ave. was built by the City of Kingston in 1872 to provide accommodations for the poor and elderly. Later it became a county-run infirmary and offices for the county Department of Health. In 2014, the county transferred the property to the Ulster County Economic Development Agency for sale or redevelopment. Last year, RUPCO purchased the site for $950,000.
The housing nonprofit plans to transform the property into a campus-like setting that will accommodate 66 units of supported housing for vulnerable populations including the frail elderly, people with mental health and substance abuse disorders, the disabled and the recently homeless. RUPCO Executive Director Kevin O’Connor said that he was spurred to undertake the project several years ago while touring local boarding houses which, along with motel rooms paid for by the county Department of Social Services, are the primary sources of shelter for those populations.
O’Connor described mentally ill residents crammed three or four into small rooms in dirty facilities contaminated with mold, lead paint and bedbugs. By contrast, the proposed landmark place would offer permanent housing with on-site services including security, an LPN and other support services.
“This is not a homeless shelter, this is not transitional housing,” said O’Connor. “This is permanent rental housing.”
O’Connor said Landmark Place was a small piece of a much larger effort to fund supported housing for populations that typically end up in homeless shelters or other temporary housing or on the street. Under the Empire State Supportive Housing Initiative Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed building 20,000 units of supportive housing statewide over the next 15 years. In September, RUPCO was one of 84 agencies that received conditional approval for funding under that initiative to develop the first 1,200 units of housing under the program. O’Connor described the ESSHI funding as a “rich pot” of state tax dollars to provide services to residents of the new supported housing units. He argued that by taking area residents who currently live in county-supported motels and other temporary housing arrangements and providing permanent housing in a state-supported residence, local taxpayers would save thousands.
“We like to bring that money here where we’re working,” said O’Connor. “Otherwise it’s going to Binghamton or Wyoming [County].”
Rebecca Sauer of the New York State Supported Housing Network said there was a desperate need for projects like Landmark Place statewide. Sauer said that the units served a subset of the homeless population that needs more than a new job or a security deposit on an apartment to live independently. Without secure housing and on-site support services, Sauer said, many end up if more expensive and less humane custodial settings.
“It’s really for people who have long term barriers to independent living be it mental health or addiction issues,” said Sauer. “[Without supportive housing] they end up in shelters, in psychiatric institutions and sometimes in jails and prisons.”
RUPCO’s proposal calls for transforming the former alms house into 35 studio and one-bedroom apartments. The renovation would also create community spaces for residents and office space for nursing staff and other support workers. The plan also calls for construction of a new building adjacent to the alms house that would contain another 32 studio and one-bedroom apartments. The new building would be restricted to residents aged 55 and older. Project architect Scott Dutton said that the ground would be augmented with new plantings, walkways and lighting to create a park-like setting for residents and visitors. Dutton added that the renovation and new construction would be guided by “evidence-based” design principles with features like natural light-filled stairwells and community spaces that have been shown to benefit physical and mental health.
“It’s a healthy, happy active design that responds to [residents’] needs and helps lift people up,” said Dutton.
Support not unanimous
RUPCO officials acknowledged that they have faced “pushback” on the proposal. Last year, an Ulster County lawmakers representing Kingston questioned whether the county had done enough to market the property to private investors. Legislator Dave Donaldson (D-Kingston) pointed to bids that were received after RUPCO agreed to buy the building that would have resulted in a larger payment to the county upfront and potentially more in tax revenue down the line.
RUPCO officials are negotiating a payment in lieu of taxes agreement (PILOT) with the county that is expected to amount to about $60,000 annually. The agreement will put the property on the tax rolls for the first time in its history, but will be well below what a private sector investor without a PILOT would pay.
Alderman Tony Davis (D-Ward 6) who represents the area around the alms house, said this week neighborhood residents were concerned about the impacts of the RUPCO plan on a quiet neighborhood of single-family homes. Davis said that concerns ranged from the project’s impact on property values to whether the area’s aging sewer system could handle the increased population. Davis said he had also heard from people across the city who complained that there were not enough housing options for middle-income retirees.
“I’ve spoken to my constituents and the majority are not in favor of it,” said Davis. “And they will be at the hearing to express their opinion.”
RUPCO Vice President of Real Estate Joe Eriole compared the local resistance to the project to similar concerns voiced during the agency’s long, contentious and ultimately successful effort to build low-income housing in Woodstock. Eriole said that, like the Woodstock project, he believed the impacts from Landmark place would be minimal.
“I know there are concerns now,” said Eriole. “But one year after it’s built, you’re not going to hear anything about it in any negative sense.”