Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan urged business and community leaders at the Ulster County Regional Chamber of Commerce’s monthly breakfast to rally around a proposed redevelopment that would turn the now derelict former Ulster County Jail site at Golden Hill in Kingston into 160 units of housing focused on workforce and seniors.
The proposal calls for 80 units of senior housing and 80 units of workforce housing that are affordable from a range of 30 to 130 percent of area median income. The county is partnering with Philadelphia-based Pennrose which has developed over 17,000 units across 16 states. Dylan Salmons, who is working on the project for Pennrose said the private firm has worked on projects across New York State from Brooklyn to Buffalo. He said tax credits allow the firm to build such projects and continue to offer affordable and deeply affordable rents.
William D’Avelia, who is also working on the project for Pennrose, told local officials the project will seek to bring together not only seniors but also families living in townhouse style units with plenty of outdoor community spaces right on site. The senior units and townhouse units would be housed in separate buildings.
A commercial hub on site could include either a commercial business or a community business that could attract both people within the community and from beyond, he said September 21 during the first in-person Chamber breakfast since before the COVID-19 pandemic struck the area in early 2020.
D’Avelia said the development would feature a bus stop for those who don’t drive and a trail connecting it to the nearby Empire State Trail. He said that green construction and operation is also a priority and that they’re trying to minimize fossil fuel use and hope to make the facility fully electric for heating, cooling and water heating. According to D’Avelia, “we’ll be looking into on-site solar and possibly geothermal.”
Pennrose hopes to start in construction in mid- to late 2022 and construction would take about two years to ribbon cutting, but D’Avelia cautioned that this is an optimistic time frame. He said the project will not only create temporary construction jobs, with special consideration given to women, minority and disabled veteran owned contractors and subcontractors, but also permanent jobs in property management and other administrative functions.
Ryan said he’s doing everything possible to meet an acute need for affordable housing in the area, even though these 160 units will only make a dent in the 1000 units of affordable housing studies show is needed to meet demand in the county.
The county exec pointed to a recently announced project where the county, in partnership with RUPCO, Family of Woodstock and Catholic Charities will convert the old Quality Inn Hotel on state Route 28 near the New York state Thruway Exit 19 interchange into about 100 units of supportive housing. The county previously said it plans to have supportive services available at that development.
But Ryan admitted both of these projects will also take years.
In the meantime, he said the county is doing its best to find housing solutions for those in acute need. The current extension of an eviction moratorium to January is providing some relief, but it certainly doesn’t offer a permanent solution. He said a state assistance program for those facing housing insecurity funded by billions in federal COVID-19 relief funds has gotten off to a very rocky start. “We’re doing everything we can do to push the state,” he said.
Ryan said the lack of affordable housing not only represents a crisis for humanity, but also holds back the region’s economy, as those who work here in essential jobs ranging from making deliveries to working in area hospitals, increasingly cannot afford to live here. “They put their lives on the line during the pandemic,” Ryan said. And, he said, their kids move out because they can afford to live and work here.
Ryan pointed out that these trends have been happening for years with a 2018 study showing that someone would have to work 67.5 hours a week on the mean wage just to afford a one-bedroom apartment — and that’s before the pandemic when rents were closer to $1000 per month. “That’s just not doable…”
Ryan said rents now range more toward $1,700-$1,800 as prices have surged during the COVID-19 pandemic, and as the supply of new housing has not kept up with the demand. That’s only been exacerbated by the influx of newcomers who have moved metropolitan areas during the course of the pandemic. The crisis has recently attracted the attention of national publications like The New York Times and Washington Post. “That’s not the kind of headlines we want to be getting,” the county executive admitted.
While renters have felt the greatest burden of this crisis, Ryan said homeowners have also started to feel the pinch, while at the same time the average wages have declined in the area in the last ten years, when adjusted for inflation, for all but the top income earners. He said officials need to be thinking about this issue with concrete goals for five, 10 and 15 years out.
But on a more immediate note, Ryan pleaded for support from the community for projects like the one proposed at Golden Hill, fearing that community opposition can delay and or even derail such projects. “People say they support affordable housing, but not near me,” he said.
He called on the business community to rally around the project and not just sit on the fence. He urged business leaders to show up at the public hearings to lend their support and engage those who express opposition to affordable housing development.
“Almost no one got richer during this pandemic,” Ryan said. “We need to find a way to build this as quickly as possible.”