While the affordable housing law on the books in the Village of New Paltz is still in its infancy, its creators believe it would be bolstered by creating similar requirements throughout the rest of the town of New Paltz, as well. Guy Kempe, chair of the village’s affordable housing board, spoke at a joint meeting of village and town leaders last week about the prospect. If a law that’s similar enough to the village’s is passed by town lawmakers, that same affordable housing board could be expanded to oversee implementation throughout the community. However, if the needs prove sufficiently different for denizens outside the village, that may not be possible.
Should such an “intermunicipal housing law,” as Kempe called it, become a reality, it would be a “new thing,” he said. He explained that the village law requires 10% of newly-built apartments to be designated “affordable,” which in this case means that eligible renters earn no more than 60% of the median income in the county; in 2016, that would have translated to $40,477. The units must be of the same quality as others in the same building, and the maximum rent is calculated using a formula which includes the number of bedrooms and average median income for the past three years.
To sweeten the pot — and withstand judicial scrutiny — developers are allowed a “density bonus,” an additional full-rate apartment over and above what’s normally allowed for each required affordable unit. For simplicity, buildings with fewer than ten units are not included in the village law, and it’s hoped that the density bonus will prevent developers from capping their buildings at nine apartments just to avoid the hassle.
In 2011, a new comprehensive plan was drafted for the town, but never adopted. That has not kept anyone who agrees with its tenets to refer to it to justify a position; Kempe pointed out that housing for people regardless of socioeconomic status was among that abandoned plan’s principles. However, he also noted that the specifics of the village law might not be appropriate for the rest of the town, and that such questions must be studied. “One size does not fit all,” he said, but preserving the principle of a density bonus would likely keep any such town law from being challenged in court. He also drew attention to exemptions under the village law: projects built to comply with federal standards because it might be too difficult to fulfill both, for example.
An important responsibility of affordable housing is maintaining the eligibility list, and Kempe hopes that town and village laws would be similar enough to avoid making a second one, because that would significantly complicate the process. Creating a second board would tax a volunteer base which is already spread thin, and even though such a solution might make it simpler to administer two lists, it would still add layers of complexity for those seeking an affordable place to live.
In the village, those on the list are assigned points based on additional criteria: tenure in the community; employment by the village, as a town police officer, or in the school district or BOCES; active military service or veteran status, among others. Deputy mayor KT Tobin agreed with Kempe that not creating a law that needed a different list would be preferable.
Details about how to explore a town-wide law are still being ironed out. One school of thought is to task members of the existing housing board, plus a small number of others, to make recommendations. Trustee Dennis Young suggested an alternative, creating an entirely separate ad-hoc committee.