As a sharp increase in housing prices in Ulster County and across the Hudson Valley makes national news, Ulster County is moving forward with a plan to transfer the site of its old jail to a private developer to build affordable housing.
Under the plan, the title to the land, located on Golden Hill off Route 32, will be transferred to the Ulster County Housing Development Corporation (UCHDC), a newly created body that will evaluate the five proposals for affordable housing developments submitted by private developers earlier this year, with the aim of picking one by October. The five UCHDC members are two top county legislators, legislature chairman Dave Donaldson and ranking minority leader Ken Ronk, two members of county executive Pat Ryan’s brain trust, deputy county executive Evelyn Wright and planning director Dennis Doyle, and well-known Kingston real-estate broker Hayes Clement.
At last week’s legislature meeting, the plan was unanimously approved without debate. The new board met for the first time the next day.
“The UCHDC will not only allow us to start the process of converting an unused property into housing, but it will also allow us to continue to explore ways to address the broader housing crisis that we are facing,” county executive Ryan said in a press release. “I look forward to continuing to partner with the legislature to tackle this critical need and ensure every Ulster County resident can afford to live with dignity here in our county.”
For and against
A public hearing the week before was dominated by neighbors speaking in opposition, citing increased traffic and the belief that Kingston had a disproportionate amount of affordable housing developments compared to the rest of the county. The August 18 meeting included some similar statements, as well as comment from supporters.
Justin Orochen called housing “an urgent matter that requires an urgent level of response.” He cited articles saying housing prices in Ulster County have risen 17.6 percent since this time last year. Orochen said that people already struggling with finding affordable housing were now in more dire straits than ever. Kingston was the appropriate place to site such development, Orochen said, because it’s where the bulk of services are available.
Rashida Tyler of The Real Kingston Tenants Union told legislators, “We are past the point of a crisis — we are in a housing emergency.” Tyler cited an individual “working two very good jobs” who was unable to find a two-bedroom apartment. As a result, the family had to sleep in a van.
Another family, Tyler said, had to separate in order to obtain living quarters. There are 1600 people in the county in such a precarious housing situation, according to Tyler, and those opposed were in a “position of privilege and home ownership, who don’t worry where they will lay their heads down at night.”
Speaking in opposition, Susan Reise asserted that Kingston was over-saturated with affordable housing. She felt it would be “more beneficial” to consider another use for “this beautiful piece of land,” which bordered her own property. “I feel sorry for these people, but maybe they could reach out to a different community other than Kingston,” said Reise.
Ellen DiFalco, who voiced her misgivings at last week’s public hearing, restated her concerns during public comment at this session. “I am opposed to sale or transfer of the jail and land at Golden Hill to a local development corporation for affordable housing,” she said. She questioned the transparency of the process.
She called for the more equitable distribution of lower-income housing in different areas around the county. DiFalco believes that there’s already a disproportionately large amount of affordable housing in Kingston, and that an inventory of all surplus property should be performed first, because “other county properties fit the bill.”