Woodstock’s housing committee is urging the town board to spend American Rescue Plan funds to provide opportunities for affordable housing. The housing committee said in its year-end report that the town is continuing to lose full-time residents who work at local businesses and that school enrollment is still dropping.
Woodstockers are having an increasingly tough time making ends meet, explained committee co-chair Susan Goldman. “A large percentage of those in the village who are over 65 live on less than 200 percent of the poverty level. That is, they live on less than $21,000 a year,” she said. “According to the county’s housing action plan, almost 30 percent of Woodstock’s renters spend a third to a half of their income on housing costs, and that is not sustainable.
Homeowners are cost-burdened as well.” People cannot afford to keep their houses up.
There are small rays of hope across the Woodstock housing landscape, however.
HomeShare Woodstock, which links homeowners with extra living space and renters looking for attainable housing, had its first two matches. One is a local employee and artist who has returned to the community. The other is an elderly homeowner who will benefit from assistance and transportation.
Woodstock Housing Alliance, a nonprofit organization to develop housing land trusts, has begun. Areas suitable for building housing have been identified.
A low-interest loan program proposed for homeowners to renovate and create rental spaces is awaiting seed money from American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds awarded the town. Goldman hopes that funding will happen soon.
The town board has awarded $41,000 in ARP funds to HomeShare Woodstock, but hasn’t acted on the $175,000 to seed a loan program to renovate structures and spaces into accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and $199,000 to plan infrastructure for sites for shovel-ready housing development.
Goldman pushed for town-board action. “We cannot stress this strongly enough, as these will allow critical infrastructure development before the spring building season is upon us,” she said. “Here we’re referring to both the infrastructure supports for evaluating building on town-owned land, and the Woodstock Housing Alliance proposal to support accessory dwelling units.”
The Woodstock Housing Alliance is currently in discussion over a collaboration with HomeShare Woodstock, in which a portion of loan funds requested would enable selected homeowners whose homes need small renovations to join HomeShare Woodstock as home providers.
The Woodstock Housing Alliance has set a goal of 25 permanently affordable rentals in the next two years, co-chair Katherine Tegen said. This year, the committee will focus on creating a detailed picture of Woodstock’s demographics and current housing inventory.
“Feedback on housing types and sizes desired by Woodstockers will be incorporated as well as specific strategies,” Tegen noted.
“You guys have been doing a fantastic job. We’re excited about what’s coming down the pike, and I look forward to continuing,” said town supervisor Bill McKenna, who expects a vote on the ARP funds at the next meeting of the town board on February 14.
McKenna hopes that lingering questions on the part of some council members can be addressed through discussions with the housing committee.
“I just wanted to thank you for your service to Woodstock and specifically your passion for innovative ways to bring affordable housing to the community,” council member Bennet Ratcliff said. “I think it’s necessary to not look at one thing as that silver bullet, because I think that it’s clear that we need to be doing home-share. We need to be doing accessory dwelling units. We need to be doing land banks. I think the town needs to be building affordable housing itself, and I think that what you’re doing is bringing us right to the pathway of leading the rest of the county, and I wanted to thank you for that.”
The housing committee thanked Kirk Ritchey, who has stepped down as co-chair. “We’ve had a great relationship, Kirk and I,” Goldman said. “We often hear that our committee is productive, efficient and focused, and that’s in no small part due to Kirk’s leadership. From the very beginning, he and I got together a process we thought would help us build a true team. That didn’t mean that we didn’t have conflict and disagreement. But we managed these with as much openness as we thought possible. And we got to know each other’s strengths and needs.”
Committee member Urana Kinlen agreed. “He really kind of pushed us to do the research from the beginning, and we spent nine to eleven months just researching and following leads and then discussing those and seeing where it took us,” she said.
Council member Reggie Earls thanked Ritchey for his community service.“ Thank you, Kirk, for everything you’ve given and continue to give to the town and thank you to all of you, for all the work that you’re doing,” Earls said. “This is really going to make a positive impact on lots of people in this town.” McKenna noted that Ritchey had also led the effort to get the comprehensive plan, which hadn’t been updated in 56 years, passed.