On behalf of our senior citizens and vulnerable elders, we filed an amended petition on July 11 as one strategy to protect our collective rights. While state law allows for a protest petition by neighbors of a proposed rezoning to trigger a supermajority, the law is equally clear that if there’s a 100-foot-buffer between the rezoning and the neighbors, a protest petition from neighbors cannot force a supermajority for approval of the rezoning, and a simple majority vote is enough to approve it.
Let’s remember that a majority of the City of Kingston Common Council voted 5-4 in favor of a zoning change for this site. That is an expression of the democratic process and the will of the people of Kingston. While the city assumed the protest petition was valid, thus requiring a 7-2 vote to approve the zoning change, we believe the petition fails the legal requirements and should have been rejected. Therefore, we have filed an Article 78 and declaratory judgment action that challenges the denial of the zoning change under our original petition as well. We think the courts will deem the original vote in favor of rezoning to be sufficient.
In addition, if necessary, we will also file a complaint with Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and will follow with a lawsuit against the City of Kingston for failing to make a reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities. Both the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protect persons with disabilities from discrimination and require reasonable accommodations to be made by a municipality to ensure fair housing practices. Persons with disabilities are a protected class, no less important than race, sex, religion, national origin, color or familiar status. Those protected classes include several of our intended tenants: seniors with mental illness, seniors with substance use disorder, and seniors with physical impairments. The record is clear that certain members of the Common Council relied on inflammatory and discriminatory rhetoric against protected classes in making their decision on the original rezoning request. Simply put, a municipality may not make zoning or other land-use decisions based on neighbors’ fears that a dwelling may be occupied by members of these protected classes.
While we harbor no ill will towards the neighbors who have protested against this project, we do believe it’s time — particularly given the hateful rhetoric that has been demonstrated across the country against persons of color, certain religious groups, and other protected classes — that the hateful rhetoric spoken here in Kingston against our most vulnerable senior citizens at public hearings and written in the comment sections of newspaper websites and on social media stops, once and for all. Kingston has declared itself a Sanctuary City and its leaders have almost universally spoken out against the culture of hate displayed elsewhere. It is time to take care of business at home and to stop treating people as “other” people! We stand with the majority of Kingston Common Council members who voted to support our proposed project.
We take no pleasure in bringing lawsuits against the City of Kingston, and we are troubled that the City has recently faced two other federal fair housing lawsuits. We hope the Common Council will take action to avoid unnecessary taxpayer expense by settling our claims without costly litigation. Between the cost of litigation and the loss of tax revenue this project would bring, all of the taxpayers of Kingston should not bear the burden of defending unlawful actions. We listened to the neighbors early on and responded by making reasonable accommodations in our proposal — we adjusted the age of the population to be age 55 and over for all tenants. The law requires the city to do no less. We were pleased to receive a negative declaration from the City of Kingston’s Planning Board and an endorsement from the Ulster County Planning Board prior to a favorable vote by the Common Council to change the zoning.
A proposal that is widely supported by the record is being held up by a handful of families who live next to the project. Their opposition is based on unfounded fears about the populations to be served, veiled in arguments which the record reflects are unfounded. We reject any notion that simply living near senior and supportive housing will have a negative effect on people’s lives.
We are compelled to move forward based on our mission and the following facts:
- The City of Kingston, based on the fact that it accepts federal Community Development Block Grant funds, has a duty to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing.
- The need for affordable and supportive housing for the age 55 and over cohort has been soundly demonstrated in the record.
- Since 2001, other municipalities in Ulster County have approved and built 534 senior housing units while the City of Kingston has built zero. It is well past time for the City of Kingston to step up and meet the needs of its senior citizens. The rhetoric of opponents that the City of Kingston has “done enough” is simply not factual.
- In 2009, Ulster County adopted the Three County Housing Assessment Needs Study, executed by an economist and paid for by the Dyson Foundation that stipulated that to meet the affordable housing gap, the City of Kingston would need to build 1,005 units of affordable housing by 2020. Since that report was published, the city has only added 55 units of affordable housing.
- RUPCO has the experience and expertise along with funding commitments to develop, build and adequately staff Landmark Place to safely provide 35 supportive housing units for seniors with special needs along with 31 affordable housing units for seniors of low income.
- Landmark Place will pay a robust $132,000 recreation fee to the City of Kingston Recreation Department and put the property on the tax rolls for the first time in its history. The $20 million development will bring tax revenue and jobs to the city during construction and as permanent positions when operating.
- Landmark Place will save local taxpayer dollars by moving folks out of motel rooms, shelters, and overcrowded boarding homes where local taxpayers are paying up to $100 per night to house them, and alleviate the burden on local hospitals by keeping people housed and supported with regular care.
In the end, Landmark Place will accomplish all of the above and provide 66 permanent, healthy, accessible homes to our senior citizens, some with special needs, in a richly designed, well-built, well-staffed campus.
We hope that the will of the people of Kingston and the obligation of our city to serve its seniors and disabled will prevail, and that more people will come out to show their support.
Kevin O’Connor is the chief executive officer of RUPCO.