The Village of Saugerties will not join the Ulster County Housing Smart Communities Initiative…yet. Trustees voted 4-2 against a resolution to join the program last week, but kept the door open for reconsideration in the future.
Trustees Terry Parisian, Vince Buono, Donald Hackett and Brian Martin voted against the resolution, while Mayor Bill Murphy and Trustee Andrew Zink voted to pass. Trustee Jeannine Mayer did not attend the meeting, held on Monday, June 19.
Parisian said the six-point commitment to join the program left the village’s actual obligation unclear.
“I want to know what our obligation and our monetary contribution is to the six items that we have to commit to by agreeing to this resolution,” Parisian said. “Why is the village responsible for housing? I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around why we’re agreeing to this.”
Among the six points in the resolution include joining the program and engaging with the community; designation of a Housing Smart Community coordinator to liaise between Ulster County and the municipality; enjoining the Town of Saugerties to establish a community outreach and educational campaign on the importance of developing a range of housing options; and begin implementing a prioritized set of the program’s Housing Smart actions.
The initiative was proposed last month by Ulster County Executive Jen Metzger as a $15 million action fund to address rising housing and rental costs through investment. The fund will initially be comprised of $15 million from the county’s surplus fund balance, and will be maintained using 20 percent of the hotel occupancy tax and possibly grants. Funding through the program would prioritize vulnerable populations, including unhoused and disabled people, and households making 20 percent or lower than the area median income.
Among the eligible projects would be emergency and supportive housing, affordable for-sale and rental properties, and accessory dwelling units. Other eligibility priorities would include all-electric projects, proof of concept projects which might facilitate change in the housing and construction sectors, and changes to infrastructure to ensure the success of other projects in the program. Municipalities enrolled in the Housing Smart Communities Initiative would be given priority over those which are not.
Hackett called the resolution “a good touch-me, feel-me thing.”
“With our codes that we have in the village, our building codes and our regulations, a lot of this stuff would not apply,” Hackett said.
Parisian said he wasn’t necessarily opposed philosophically, but he felt he was unable to support the resolution without knowing more what it meant for the Village of Saugerties.
“I support housing, I do,” Parisian said. “But again, it’s too vague and there’s no monetary, no time commitment, no timeframe…I can’t vote to comply with it when I don’t know what we’ve got to comply with…If I’m going to engage in something, I want to know what my true responsibilities are, not vagueness. What does that mean? How am I to go about it?…All these things need to be answered.”
Buono questioned the definition of “diverse” in a passage decrying the “lack of diverse housing opportunities for all community members.”
“This word diverse, diverse in the context of this resolution, what does that really mean?” asked Buono.“Diverse, that word gets thrown around a lot today and why is it even in here? I don’t understand.”
There was also concern from some trustees that joining the program could hurt rental property owners.
“Is this going to be like a rent control thing going on?” asked Hackett.
Murphy, who voted in favor of joining the initiative, agreed that a program with a rent control stipulation could be problematic in the village, particularly after a rent freeze during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The last thing I want to do is be the person telling a landlord, ‘You can’t charge more than this,’” Murphy said. “I have friends who were owed six figures in back rent and are never gonna see a dime of it…It was a great program for people who were out of work during Covid, but you never considered the landlord who still had to pay taxes and mortgages…Landlords were all getting screwed.”
Zink said he believed the Housing Smart Communities Initiative would help support residents who can’t afford to keep up with market rates.
“There’s a bunch of different apartment complexes that are going up throughout the town right now, and my understanding of a lot of them is that they aren’t necessarily affordable,” Zink said, adding that he didn’t believe the program would stop those developments from happening, but was instead geared toward helping people in need.
“The reason I feel optimistic about the county’s efforts with this $15 million fund right now is they are really trying to put in strict guidelines so that the money will be constructive,” Zink said.“It will go to places that are actually helpful in providing affordable housing for people who need it. I think it’s one of the best opportunities that’s arisen for a while, and I would hate to see us close off an opportunity for a potential funding source when I haven’t seen any downsides.”