On March 5 of last year, riding high on a million-dollar anti-displacement grant awarded to Kingston by Enterprise Community Partners, mayor Steve Noble announced a request for proposals (RFP) “for the creation and maintenance of a tiny-homes community “to house up to 30 homeless or low-income individuals in 15 units within the first year of inception.”
A year later, no tiny houses have been erected, and only $ 275,000 of the original million from the grant is currently earmarked for the project. The number of homes to be built has been whittled down. The new plan involves five tiny homes at two separate municipal lots in the Midtown neighborhood, 81 Cedar Street and 78 Franklin Street.
As Gertrude Stein said, time takes time. During the intervening year, the city had to sort through the relative merits of the responses to the RFP. A competing plan with even tinier homes to house more of the homeless regardless of their status as parents was championed by Rashida Tyler, co-founder of the Kingston Tenants Union.
But Family of Woodstock’s vision won out. With a proven track record of community service going back 50 years, the locally based non-profit was selected to create and maintain a community of demi-domains.
“These homes are intended to be utilized as rapid rehousing for a single parent and their child;” explained Family executive director Michael Berg, “while the parent gains enough financial stability to continue to live in the community.”
A life-sized origami
Family of Woodstock tapped Tommy Struzzieri’s construction company Gen Z Homes out of Saugerties, to construct the dwellings. “We’re still working with building and safety,” said Struzzieri, explaining the holdup. “Fire safety codes, energy efficiency standards .…”
In any case, it doesn’t make builder’s sense to pour the concrete foundations before the end winter. There too much risk of water freezing in the mix and cracking the cement. The plan is to get the homes on their slabs in the spring.
At just 400 square feet, the homes are prefabricated out of metal and PVC plastic. The wiring and plumbing are contained. They are like a life-sized origami packed into a shipping container, that unfolds into a two-bedroom domain with windows, doors and sink, ready for a refrigerator and electric stove.
Weighing in at seven and a half tons each, the prefabs will arrive on the tilt bed of a flat-truck and set down over a poured slab, an instant home ready to have the veins for water and electricity attached.
Housing supply limited
While the solution may be novel, the lack of affordable housing in Kingston is crippling.
According to Hayes Clement, member of the Ulster County Housing Advisory Committee, as of March 1 “only 19 houses in the entire City of Kingston are fully available to purchase, and only eight of those are below $300,000. The area median income for a household in Ulster County is in the $60,000s. At that AMI, by the lenders’ rule of thumb, you might be able to, if you had a good credit score, afford a house at about $230,000. There are only three houses in all of Kingston for less than $230,000.”
With home ownership off the table, only the rental option remains for so many. And the rising rental market of Kingston itself is out of reach.
With an estimated 19.2 percent of the residents of Kingston living at or below the poverty line, some form of subsidized housing becomes essential.
Emphasizing the needs of single-parent families dealing with housing insecurity over those in the same predicament without children was a sort of triage choice, based on available resources.
Children. Over the last decade, indicators for children living in poverty on single-parent households are dire. Child abuse and neglect are on the rise. Children in these families can be at risk of poorer health and lower educational outcomes.
Being a child in a single-parent family doesn’t make these outcomes certain. The idea is to chip away at negative outcomes with timely housing support which may not otherwise be available.
According to the 2020 Ulster County Rental Housing Survey, Kingston is among municipalities with the highest number of non-subsidized rental apartments, that is, rentals that won’t accept Section 8, a voucher system whereby government subsidizes up to 70 percent of the total cost of a rental.
While it’s easy to discover the total number of unsubsidized rental units available in Kingston, establishing the stock of subsidized units is a murkier process. The best estimate seems to be around 900 properties.(2020 housing report). Using the HUD Resource Locator to search the map of Kingston, that number dwindles to 571 subsidized apartments total, with the caveat that the “Numbers do not indicate vacancies.”
The complexity of the system is like an infernal forest of numbers and hopelessness.
Groups like Family of Woodstock have 24-hour hotlines where volunteers act like sherpas for the lost and weary, directing them to resources and untangling the jargon.
It’s only a pilot program
The Broadway East townhomes, an apartment building that looks a bit like an oversized franchise hotel squatting just off Route 9W in the Rondout, offers no easy access to groceries, yet another problem plaguing the poor. Near to the city police station and the courthouse is one of the more miserable grocery stores to have existed to serve the poor. Without a car, the closest actual grocery store with possible nutritious foods available is three miles away.
One can imagine the joy of walking into one’s very own tiny home after the march to the grocery stores nearby the proposed Midtown neighborhood where the tiny homes will be placed. The limited number of tiny homes seems like a very small solution for very few people, but at least it’s something better for someone somewhere.
“This is not meant to solve the housing problem,” explains Kingston’s director of housing Initiatives Bartek Starodaj, “It can’t. But it can help. It’s a pilot program that will hopefully yield positive results.”
Starodaj will host an open house for the community at the Everette Hodge Community Center at 6 p.m. on March 17 to discuss where the tiny homes will go. Family of Woodstock will be there.
It will be an opportunity to hear the goals of the project and discuss concerns.