Ulster County, RUPCO, Catholic Charities and Family of Woodstock are forming a partnership to transform the struggling Quality Inn Hotel at 114 state Route 28 near the New York state Thruway into 100-units of supportive housing, aiming to combine dignity along with numerous services under one roof.
RUPCO CEO Kevin O’Connor announced at a press conference Tuesday that the not-for-profit housing agency has entered into a contract for $3.7 million to purchase two parcels totaling 6.2 acres, including the 142-room hotel which will be transformed into 100 one, two and three-bedroom apartments after extensive renovations that will cost $20 million. County Executive Pat Ryan, Family of Woodstock CEO Michael Berg, and CEO Shannon Kelly of Catholic Charities of Orange, Sullivan and Ulster County were also on hand. “The object is to create a green and sustainable campus to take 142 rooms into 100 apartments so everyone will have their own room,” he said.
O’Connor said RUPCO wants to create nothing less than a best-in-class supportive housing complex offering permanent, emergency and transitional housing with wraparound services and compassionate care. The services are slated to include onsite daycare, medical and behavioral health, daily food service, housing navigation, and navigation and transportation to ensure people are connected to the rest of the community he said. These services will be tailored to individual needs, he added.
He said the hotel’s pool will be used for therapeutic services. He added they also hope to find innovative ways to transform the former Roudigan’s Steakhouse restaurant, shuttered for over a year, to not only enhance nutrition, but to offer shared food time for residents, and perhaps open it to the community.
O’Connor said he believes some residents could start moving in as soon as Spring 2022 if the building can be occupied during construction and he’s hoping for a full move-in date by the end of 2022.
He said officials will look to a number of avenues for funding the project including Federal CARES act funding, state Community Block Grants, the state’s Homeless Housing Assistance Program, to provide rent and a new state program called “Housing Our Neighbors with Dignity Act” (HONDA) which provides a mechanism for the state to finance the purchase of outdated hotels and motels and office buildings to transform into housing. Originally set aside only for New York City, agencies like RUPCO fought to make the funding available statewide, O’Connor said. The Empire Supportive Housing Program would be tapped to provide rent assistance. RUPCO is working with Mass Design, a Poughkeepsie-based architecture firm that specializes in design that is purposeful, healing, and hopeful to make the site attractive and give residents dignity.
“The time is now to respond to the loss of so many forms of our housing and community support,” O’Connor said, pointing to the crisis surrounding Chiz’s Heart Street on Washington Avenue in Kingston, a boarding house with supportive care. He said boarding houses are being driven out of the U.S. “They were a mainstay of affordable housing for decades in this country, O’Connor said. “Now is the time to get to the leading edge of this movement to recapture and repurpose obsolete buildings to provide affordable housing.”
Pandemic exacerbated crisis
Kelly said Catholic Charities was proud to be part of a project that takes a holistic approach and treats people as people, and offers not only a house or a roof but a place for someone to call home.
County Exec Ryan said transforming this struggling hotel into supportive housing represents a major step forward in addressing an urgent housing crisis in Ulster County. “Even before the pandemic we saw these pressures and these issues growing and getting worse and worse. More folks couldn’t afford [to live here] even working one or more jobs and…we know the pandemic has only significantly, significantly exacerbated that.”
Ryan emphasized how much fear these residents face when they don’t know where they’re going to sleep tonight or perhaps are worrying about what happens when the eviction moratorium lifts. He called this situation not only “morally wrong on a very deep and human level” but also an economic impediment for Ulster County. “We talk to our businesses, our nonprofits and community organizations and the number one thing we’re hearing is our workforce increasingly can’t afford to live here.”
County Legislator Brian Cahill (D-town of Ulster, town of Kingston) who oversees the legislature’s housing committee said he’s proud to support a project that will help a sector of society that is only growing every day.
Also on hand was New York City Public Advocate Jumanne Williams who has traveled the state working on criminal justice reform and housing justice. Williams has worked on housing justice for the past 15-20 years and he said the issues have remained much the same. “What I’ve tried to do is let all the cities and municipalities know what collectively we can do to make some change,” Williams said. “Unfortunately we haven’t seen the resources structurally or financially from Albany.” He lauded this project for not waiting around to ensure people are protected,” Williams said, calling housing the “fabric of everyone’s world…you can’t get better from a hospital if you don’t have adequate housing, you can’t do your homework from school if you don’t have adequate housing, all these things are intersectional and tied together.”
He said all too often he’s seen motels transformed into homeless shelters, but then fail due to a lack of permanent and supportive housing. “To see the county executive teaming up with RUPCO and others to get what is needed is phenomenal,” Williams said.
But with this project set to take more than a year, Ryan and county officials along with agencies like Family of Woodstock and Catholic Charities are scrambling to do everything they can do in to find new homes for the 19 residents still living at Chiz’s Heart Street and they expect things to only get worse when an eviction moratorium is lifted in the next few weeks.
Ryan said his team along with Ulster County Department of Social Services Commissioner Michael Iapoce has succeeded in relocating 50 residents from Chiz’s. But he admitted the county simply does not have enough housing stock. “There’s only so much we can do when we have a structural imbalance and lack of housing at all levels, which is why this project is so important,” Ryan said. “In the meantime, we are literally going to work around the clock and not leave anyone without a home.”
He said that includes resources like the county’s tenant protection unit that partners with Legal Services of the Hudson Valley to help people facing eviction or intimidation from their landlord.
Ryan confessed the county has all too often failed the homeless and those with housing insecurity even before the pandemic.
“I wish we had started on this earlier, a decade-plus earlier we wouldn’t be in this situation,” Ryan said. “That being said, it’s never too late to do the right thing and make those investments we’re glad to do it now.”