The lack of affordable housing in Woodstock has reached a crisis level, said the committee tasked with finding ways to address it before the character of the community changes drastically.
“Woodstock, as we know, is a wonderful place live. It’s created the problem we’re looking at,” Housing Committee Co-Chair Susan Goldman told the Town Board at its December 17 business meeting as the group provided it’s year-end summary.
The Housing Committee is one of several volunteer panels formed based on recommendations in the Comprehensive Plan to address issues ranging from updating zoning to improving wireless communications in the western part of town.
Woodstock has always led other towns in real estate prices, but in recent years the market has changed, according to the committee’s report to the town. The rising popularity of short-term rentals has reduced availability of year-round rentals and raised rents of remaining units.
Home ownership is simply unattainable for many.
Citing statistics from planning and research organization Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress, about 35-40 percent of town residents pay more than they should for housing costs. That threshold is generally accepted as 30 percent of monthly income. About 70 percent of renters pay more than they should. As of 2016, there is a $400 monthly shortfall between the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment and monthly wages.
“In failing to create diverse rental and home buyer opportunities that are below market rates, the very character of our town may change in ways which are not easily reversed and which Woodstockers say in survey after survey that we do not want,” said the report.
The lack of affordable housing has a big impact on businesses’ ability to keep an adequate workforce and has resulted in a significant downturn in volunteerism, noted Housing Committee Co-Chair Kirk Ritchey. “Because they’re worried about housing, they don’t have time to volunteer,” he said.
Councilman Lorin Rose noted the lack of volunteers can eventually lead the town down the path toward a paid fire department, which necessitates higher taxes and starts the cycle of driving more people out of town.
In speaking with focus groups and having conversations with community members, the Housing Committee has learned people are finding it increasingly difficult to find housing that is both within their price range and is in livable condition.
The committee seeks help from the town in conducting surveys of town-owned property as possible sites for housing and time from a grant writer to fund land studies and research startup costs for a housing trust. The committee will also seek private land for opportunities.
Ritchey said housing is a worry that cuts across all demographics in town, but especially hits the arts community.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are solutions to these problems, Ritchey said.
Committee members will also create an inventory of homes affordable to locals and work with the Zoning Revision Committee on providing flexibility for housing options.
There may be opportunities for incentives to homeowners to provide affordable rentals through solutions such as accessory apartments on the property or converting large single-family homes into multiple units where it is appropriate.
“We should be able to provide housing relatively quickly if we get working on this,” Ritchey said, giving a timeline of somewhere in the early 2020’s.
Deputy Supervisor Maria-Elena Conte said she is researching home-sharing arrangements where people seeking affordable housing can live on the property with seniors and look after them and provide assistance in exchange for lower rent. Such arrangements are popular in Europe and Conte is exploring if it will work here.
Conte said she was inspired by posts on social media from out-of-town people asking others to check in on their elderly parents.
Conte figured a cooperative living arrangement can be beneficial to both seniors who can stay in their home and those who can’t afford traditional housing.
Councilman Richard Heppner urged the rest of the board and future town boards to “pay attention to this committee because this is the most important issue facing this town.”
The Housing Committee invites the public to attend its meetings and provides opportunities for comment. It meets the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month at 5 p.m. in the town offices, 45 Comeau Drive.