The Woodstock Housing Committee has made the case for a three-pronged approach of short, mid and long-term solutions to solving the local housing crisis and now it is up to the Town Board to approve federal COVID relief funds to pay for them.
The committee has proposed funding the home-share program for a year to get it self-sufficient, creating a low-interest loan program to help homeowners turn unused space into below-market rentals and bringing infrastructure into town-owned land in Zena to make it shovel ready for housing.
All this will cost $415,000 in American Rescue Plan funds, around 70 percent of the total $591,485 allocated to Woodstock for 2021 and 2022. It’s a big ask, but Housing Committee co-chair Susan Goldman noted the town has fallen far behind in taking action.
“So, in looking at what we wanted to propose, through our entities — the Housing Committee really focused on this long-term intractable problem — we feel it’s a really good use of the ARP funds, because they’re not going to come again and we could make some real headway on housing,” Goldman told the Town Board at its August 9 meeting.
After the meeting, Town Supervisor Bill McKenna called all three proposals “an incredibly wise use of the funds.” He is particularly excited about the variety of solutions ranging from short-term to long-term. He expressed belief the proposals will ultimately gain Town Board approval after further discussions and clarification.
Home-sharing program seeks seed money
Something that can be done in the short term, the Town Board was told, is supporting the HomeShare Woodstock program, which lets elderly property owners stay in their homes while tenants can live on the property for below-market rent in exchange for helping with chores, maintenance, trips to the grocery store or even providing companionship.
“It’s not an expensive program. It uses existing housing stock,” she said.
HomeShare Woodstock is seeking $35,000 for operating expenses for its second year and $6000 for a so-called rainy-day fund.
The rainy-day fund will be used for tenants’ security deposit to move into another place if a match doesn’t work out or for items such as a refrigerator or doorway to make a space usable.
Supervisor McKenna said he is normally hesitant to use one-time grants to fund salaries because it is not permanent, but after talking to Goldman and Family of Woodstock Executive Director Michael Berg, he is confident the program will be self-sufficient.
The $41,000 request for HomeShare Woodstock would be granted to Family, which would administer the program.
Goldman said HomeShare Woodstock is interviewing the first potential tenant match. One home has been vetted and there are nine applicants.
The goal for the first year is to have two or three matches, which is a good milestone based on other home-share programs, she noted.
Loans for use of existing structures
The next program, designed to address the housing crisis mid-range, is a low-interest loan program to help property owners renovate spaces into below-market rentals.
“The retrofitting and the renovations…the money used for that ADU (accessory dwelling unit) would be far less than if you were building from scratch,” Housing Committee Co-Chair Kirk Ritchey said. “The program, as we’re calling it, is an affordable ADU program. The reason we’re saying affordable is we feel like those candidates who would be interested in participating in this would be committed from the beginning to have this be an under-market-rate ADU.”
The program would offer five-year loans of up to $20,000 for the necessary renovations. No payments would be due for six months, allowing the property owner to complete the renovations and find a tenant. The rental income could then be used to pay off the loan.
The loans would be administered by Woodstock Housing Alliance, a new nonprofit organization that is commonly known as a community land trust.
“We would be the loan manager of this fund. We would facilitate the loan. We would facilitate the process of selecting and then administering the loan,” said Ritchey. “We’re in talks with our local bank, which is the credit union, to provide any additional support in that regard.”
Ritchey said he envisions the loan program working in conjunction with the home-share program, whose participants could benefit from funding for more substantial renovations.
The interest rate will be below that offered by financial institutions, he noted.
The Woodstock Housing Alliance, being overseen by Ritchey and Jeff Collins, seeks $175,000 in ARP money, which would fund ten years worth of loans and provide 28 affordable ADUs. After the initial funding, the loan program would be self-sufficient.
But some Town Board members were hesitant to hand over such a large amount of money to a new program.
“It’s new. It’s a great idea. I think it’s wonderful. What type of experience does anybody have in loans, developing portfolios of loans, servicing those, working with people to do that,” asked Councilman Bennet Ratcliff. “Why did you choose to do it by yourself instead of with an existing agency? My concern is, I think it’s a great idea, but I’m really hesitant to hand over $175,000 to a new group.”
Councilwoman Laura Ricci said she wanted to know more about the organization.
“I think I’d want to read about your community land trust, your documents, like your mission. Is your mission Woodstock? Who was on the board,” she said. “We don’t have endless ARP money, and $175,000 is a huge chunk. So we would have to really think twice about it.”
Ritchey said the Housing Alliance has a board of directors and an advisory committee made up of people with expertise in the field. He compared the new organization to Ratcliff’s role.
“You have never been a Town Board member before, but your prior experience gives you the confidence that you could do this job. And that’s why you stood up and volunteered for this job,” Ritchey said. “I have a wealth of experience in managing construction and building, managing $20 million from the time I was 30 all the way until now, in terms of multiple, multiple funds, millions of dollars that I’ve been handling as part of my career experience…Jeff has experience. He’s built a school. He’s developed land. So there’s a lot of experience here just within the primary board members, and then also augmenting staff.”
Goldman said the Housing Committee worked on the proposals because the town didn’t want to be in the housing business.
“When we began the Housing Committee, it was clear the town did not have an appetite to become a housing authority. The town did not want to manage housing projects…anything like that,” Goldman said. “So when you look around the country at what everyone does, you have to have a nonprofit that manages housing to get anything done. We are woefully behind the times here so we really need to start and so this is our start.”
McKenna clarified that the town does not have to hand over a check for $175,000. Instead, it can set aside the money and pay out as each loan is approved.
Long-term, shovel-ready solution
Some 32 acres of town land on Zena Road is a potential site for affordable housing units, but infrastructure needs to be brought into the site or it won’t be worthwhile for potential developers. For this to happen, the Housing Committee is asking for $199,000 in ARP funds.
That amount will not come close to funding the necessary infrastructure, but will pay for engineering costs.
The parcel, near the Hudson Valley Sudbury School, was eyed as a possible site for Bradley Meadows but was abandoned due to lack of sewer and water, Ritchey said.
Part of the proposal involves the town issuing a request for qualifications, or RFQ, from developers to build housing units.
“Part of that RFQ would be the town’s commitment to offer $199,000 for the development of the infrastructure of that property. So what that means is access water, sewer, and that money then would be incentive for the developer,” he said. “Because that’s probably the risk associated with any of the developers. Before they even build anything, they would have to spend all that money on infrastructure…”
The money for the engineering would be potentially spent in 2023 for building to start in 2024, he said.
“So it’s definitely down the road, but it is a commitment to building and that land could easily be clusters of achievable homes in neighborhood settings, each of them with walkways in between,” Ritchey said.
He noted the proximity to Route 28, which is on public transportation routes including UCAT and Trailways.
“Why didn’t you just put an infrastructure fund aside and then ask who’s interested in developing which particular town projects? Why did you zero in on that one,” Ratcliff asked.
Ritchey said the committee was looking at town-owned land and there is very little that is buildable.
“That is distinctly a possibility that there could be just a fund and we would then have it available for when a developer walks into town and says I want to build here,” Ritchey said.
“That’s a little bit more of an open-ended scenario. I don’t really see that there’s any certainty in that.”
Ratcliff said he would rather see options than focusing on one property “so that we can make an informed decision as the stewards of the land…”
McKenna said he would leave it up to the committee to sit down with any Town Board member who had concerns.
“The thing is that we’re starting the conversation tonight. That’s what this is for. Thank you for your attention this evening,” Ritchey said.