Affordable housing in the increasingly upscale community of Woodstock, according to the Woodstock Housing Commission, was a big problem even before the Airbnb phenomenon stripped the historic town of small apartments and live-in artist studios. Surrounding towns that once provided a commuting base for those that filled Woodstock’s jobs have also faced hikes in rental costs and a rise in short-term rentals.
Add in two additional factors, the lingering angst that accompanied Woodstock’s battle to build affordable housing at Woodstock Commons — with Rupco’s help plus state and federal funding — and the community’s rising median age, now Ulster County’s highest.
Time for new solutions. How about a fresh look at old difficulties?
Woodstock Housing Commission co-chair Susan Goldman, a veteran of a long list of local volunteer efforts, noted how things started coming to a head around affordable housing 15 to 20 years ago. She cited a townwide effort to discuss Woodstock matters, Our Town, that held two “Stone Soup” events (named for an ancient tale about a community building a healthy meal out of what seemed to be nothing) on the subject of a housing problem caused by growing gentrification and other forces.
“We invited a guy who had started the Martha’s Vineyard-based Island Housing Trust who spoke about what they had been doing for ten years, from rehabbing old structures and moving them across the island to building new apartments … and we proposed creating a similar housing trust for Woodstock and getting ahead of this challenge while real-estate prices could still allow some action,” Goldman recalled. “But I don’t think the town even discussed what we had proposed.”
A $400-per-month shortfall
Over time, the committee that Goldman now co-chairs with Kirk Ritchie came together alongside several other committees in the Woodstock Comprehensive Plan. It’s now been up and running for nearly two years.
A year ago, citing statistics from planning and research organization Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress, the committee estimated that about 35 to 40 percent of Woodstock residents pay more than they should for housing costs, a threshold generally accepted to be a maximum 30 percent of monthly income. About 70 percent of renters pay more than they can afford. As of 2016, the Pattern report noted a $400 monthly shortfall between the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment and monthly wages.
“In failing to create diverse rental and homebuyer 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,” the Pattern for Progress report said. It cited the effect of such shifts on municipal services based on volunteerism, which has been simultaneously dropping in gentrifying communities.
“We need real solutions and a way for individual landowners to be part of those solutions,” Goldman said. “We don’t just need 50 additional units, although that would help. We need lots of different kinds of things.”
The current committee, while related to previous housing efforts, is connected to a growing national awareness of housing challenges than previous town efforts to build single projects. She spoke about Woodstock’s history of rentals, built for the summer visits of bohemian artists, and described by Rupco at one point as “the highest level of substandard housing anywhere in the county.”
This unenviable distinction has been further exacerbated by landlords’ more recent push to increase income by upgrading housing for higher Airbnb rentals, further squeezing those who work in town.
Starting with a survey
One of the first things the committee wants to do, Goldman said, is a community-wide survey about a plan they’ve seen working in other similar communities elsewhere: a shared-housing plan that matches those seeking housing with seniors needing help in their homes.
“Housing advocated all over the country are now talking about using different language to describe the issue in a different way,” she explained. Many seniors who have owned and inhabited their homes for decades find themselves in a bind. “This shared-housing concept is not boarding houses, or shared rooms in a house.”
The process involves securing spaces available for shared circumstances, finding and assessing those willing to live in such a setting, and contracting the arrangement in such a way as to ensure its success. The basic idea is that people can stay in their community, and allow others to move in.
“We want to see who might be interested,” Goldman added. The upcoming survey process will go out through surveymonkey via social media and ties-in with a number of area organizations working with both seniors and the working population.
“Then we can begin the process,” she added. “We want to start with a pilot. We’ll sort of be starting from scratch, away from the HUD information, based on what is in our town.”
The process to ensure compatibility is “almost like a dating service.”
Goldman notes said the survey work will begin in the coming holiday season. It’ll be promoted by a new mini-house-within-a-house model going up at the corner of Rock City Road, the Village Green and Tinker Street – with a logo design by Terry Dagrosa of echosixty6, a local design company, and mini-house design and construction by Rennie Cantine. See social-media pages under Woodstock Community Homes at Facebook and Instagram.
“We’re trying to find Woodstock solutions for our own Woodstock challenges,” said Goldman.
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