The Town Board heard just how serious the affordable housing crisis in the county and Woodstock has become during a presentation on the Ulster County Housing Action Plan.
“The county’s population is aging,” Deputy County Executive Evelyn Wright said at the March 23 Town Board meeting. “People want to age in their community, but not necessarily in the house they are in now.” While it may bring an opportunity to add to the housing stock as older people move out and into other arrangements, that is not happening either, she said.
“Not only are we not able to meet their needs, we’re not able to free up their houses for other people,” Wright said.
People are earning less money while housing prices continue to rise, a fact that probably isn’t shocking to many. But when looking at the details, officials found one third of county residents live in homes considered unaffordable by the long-established standard of one third of one’s income.
“And that was pre-Covid,” Wright said.
Wright noted the biggest employer in Ulster County is government and the average income for those workers is $60,291 based on 2018 data.
“That’s insufficient to purchase a home” based on the one-third of income affordability standard, she said.
“We don’t have an affordable housing crisis. We have a housing affordability crisis,” Wright said. “People with good jobs are having a hard time finding housing.”
The fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Ulster County is $1155. To be considered affordable, a renter would need to earn $22.21 per hour. The average hourly wage is $13.33. For that two-bedroom apartment to be considered affordable, the renter with the average wage would need to work 67 hours per week according to data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. And that was before the pandemic.
Data for each town is hard to come by because the sample size from various surveys is too small to be accurate, Wright said.
Towns should be more proactive and have a more long-term outlook when coming up with affordable housing solutions, she suggested.
“One of the things we’re recommending is trying to move beyond the project by project reactions we tend to have. What are our priority areas to preserve?” She suggested working with developers rather than waiting for them to propose projects and reject them.
Councilman Richard Heppner said there is more than just disappearing housing.
“There’s another loss. That’s a loss of community and a loss of neighbors. There’s a very fundamental change that’s going on,” he said.
County Planner Dennis Doyle said the prices are rising so quickly, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) fair market rent data is no longer valid for Ulster County. People with rent vouchers can no longer find apartments for that amount.
“Absent a public policy change, this thing just keeps getting worse and worse. Communities like Woodstock can thoughtfully lead the way and we’re here to help,” Doyle said.
Woodstock is in the process of enacting a moratorium on all commercially developed residential projects so it can stop companies from buying up homes and turning them into short-term rentals. It reduces the full-time housing stock and the owners have no roots in the community, officials have argued.
Heppner has been working with Supervisor Bill McKenna on the language, but since it must come in the form of a local law, it is a lengthy process. It must face legal scrutiny, county planning review and a public comment period before it becomes law.