Contentious debate over a proposal to convert the former Kingston alms house at 300 Flatbush Ave. into supportive housing for low-income senior citizens continued at an April 16 public hearing before the Kingston Planning Board.
A proposal by housing nonprofit RUPCO calls for purchasing the now-vacant alms house property from Ulster County. The parcel would then be transformed into “Landmark Place” with the creation of 66 studio and one-bedroom apartments at the site. Thirty-four apartments would be placed in the former Alms House and a new four-story building at the site would hold another 32. RUPCO’s plan also calls for new walking paths and landscaping to transform the site into a “park-like” setting. The complex would be restricted low incomes seniors aged 55 and over. Some of the units would be set aside for the recently homeless, veterans and people with disabilities, including mental illness and substance abuse disorders. RUPCO CEO Kevin O’Connor said the project would provide quality, permanent housing for a vulnerable population that currently resides in substandard boarding houses, county-funded motel rooms or on the streets.
But the project has faced opposition from neighbors since it was first proposed. Last year, a group opposed to the project halted the approval process by invoking a section of the city code that requires a seven-vote supermajority if a zoning change is opposed by enough adjoining property owners. Late last year, a state Supreme Court judge sided with RUPCO, invalidated the petition and allowed a previous 6-3 council vote to change the site’s zoning from single-family to multi-family residential to stand. With the zoning change a done deal, the project is now before the planning board for site plan approval.
At Monday’s public hearing, foes and friends of RUPCO’s plan rehashed many of the same arguments deployed before the Common Council and at previous planning board hearings. Among the arguments against the RUPCO proposal is that the property would be put to better use as a commercial parcel. Seventh Ward Alderman Patrick O’Reilly, who was elected after the zoning issue had been resolved and lobbied unsuccessfully for a revote, recited a litany of underfunded city departments and argued that bringing more low-income housing into the city, rather than building up the tax base, would further drain resources.
“We all want our society to be healthy, and for that we need to have these kinds of support services,” said O’Reilly. “But we cannot bankrupt a city while providing those services.”
Other opponents argued that the City of Kingston had already taken on more than its fair share of Ulster County’s low-income housing burden. Vincent Rua claimed that the city, which accounted for just 13 percent of the county’s population, contained 40 percent of its low income housing.
O’Connor, meanwhile, pointed to a 2009 study of regional housing needs which estimated that the City of Kingston would need to create at least 1,000 new units of affordable housing by 2020 to meet the needs of the existing population. Since then, O’Connor said, Kingston had added just 55 units, at RUPCO’s Lace Mill artist’s housing complex. O’Connor also argued that the plan would save local taxpayers money by utilizing state money set aside for supportive housing, and it would provide support services that would keep residents out of more-expensive-to-run local jails, hospitals and homeless shelters.
“This is going to offer people, our seniors for God’s sake, stable affordable housing with just enough of the support that they need,” said O’Connor.
Former Fourth Ward alderwoman Nina Dawson called opponents concerns a smokescreen for prejudice against the homeless, disabled and mentally ill. Indeed, several speakers at previous forums spoke out against the presence of the mentally ill and those with substance-abuse issues in a neighborhood of single-family homes. RUPCO attorneys have hinted that the rhetoric at public forums could form the basis for a federal fair housing lawsuit if the project is rejected.
“There are senior citizens in dire straits and to separate our city because you don’t want those people [her emphasis] in your neighborhood is the elephant in the room that isn’t being spoken about,” said Dawson.
The planning board did not discuss the Landmark Place proposal at Monday’s meeting. The board will continue to take written public comments until April 30. The board is expected to take up review of the RUPCO site plan at its May meeting.