Moving Forward on Affordable Housing
Improve our city and better serve our residents
November 26, 2018
We need more affordable housing in Hudson and Columbia County. I've had a pregnant neighbor forced to move just weeks before her due date and another family had to leave the neighborhood right after a major surgery. In both these instances, we failed to provide an adequate safety net. I value the economic diversity of our community and we need to improve systems so that we better serve the people who live here.
We have seen some progress in 2018.
- Columbia County and the Columbia Economic Development Council have agreed to prioritize the development of affordable housing. For the first time in recent history, there is staff time dedicated to identifying potential sites and recruiting developers for the creation of affordable housing.
- Hudson Housing Authority is creating a new affordable housing development, funded in part with the DRI grant.
- A new affordable housing development, Greenport Gardens, opened on Joslen Boulevard.
We still have more work to do. In this article, I summarize studies on housing and also provide some additional solutions to explore. Now is the time to move these forward. Please contact your local, state, and national elected officials and tell them to support these initiatives. Join me in researching and specifying solutions.
Summary of Possible Actions
Fund a Study or Community Research
- Create a master plan for affordable housing
- Identify ways to increase density through zoning and regulation, potentially including a vacancy tax and AirBnB regulation
- Identify key parcels and developers for near term development of affordable housing
- Create a Housing Coordinator position
- Require affordable housing on new developments
- Fund affordable housing through a real estate transfer tax
- Create a land bank
- Connect people in need to existing grants, education, and opportunities
See below for more details on these initiatives.
Housing Stability Has Benefits Beyond Housing
Housing stability is key for creating opportunities. In a January 2018 research report by the Urban Institute, Corianne Scally reports:
Those who need housing assistance but do not receive it face the threat of housing instability and may end up doubled up with family and friends or experiencing episodes of homelessness… Homelessness can lead to a particularly vicious cycle. Families may experience multiple stays in shelters or other homeless programs or become involved with the child welfare system. Individuals, particularly those with disabilities, may fall into a pattern of heavy use of emergency shelters, emergency rooms, and local jails.
Alternatively, Scally notes, those who get housing assistance are less food insecure, are healthier (particularly for girls), and have better educational outcomes.
In the 2017 Housing Needs Assessment of Columbia County, school staff and administrators note how the lack of affordable housing in Columbia County poses education difficulties. Homelessness and housing instability can be traumatic for students and the school allocates staff and volunteer time and other resources to help compensate.
Housing stability is an essential component of a healthy community. We need to address this issue in order to address education, economic development, public health, and public safety.
Defining Affordable Housing
Housing that is affordable costs no more than 30 percent of a household income for low-income households. For renters this includes rent and tenant-paid utilities. For homeowners this includes mortgage, insurance, and taxes.
We Need More Affordable Rental Units
The 2017 Housing Needs Assessment concluded that there is a scarcity of good quality cost-accessible family rental housing throughout Columbia County. Hudson’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant application states that “43% of households pay more than 30% of their household income for housing—a standard calculation of economic strain.” This is not a new finding, Hudson’s 2012 Housing Needs Analysis found a particular lack of cost-accessible units for households with $15,000 income or less. It also found that 44 percent of renters are paying more than 35 percent of their income for rent.
As of early 2018, The Hudson Housing Authority issues up to 280 Housing Choice Vouchers, but only 225 are in use. There are 45 households with a voucher looking for a place to rent, which may be difficult because there are not enough apartments available at the voucher price point.
The Hudson Housing Authority issues up to 129 Housing Choice Vouchers, but only 60 are in use and for those there is a waiting list. Even households with a voucher may struggle to find a place to rent, because there are not enough apartments available at the voucher price point. (2017 Housing Needs Assessment)
Low and moderate income tenants that find affordable housing often suffer from bad conditions and because of the housing scarcity they fear reporting the issues. They worry that they will be evicted and then will have no other option. (2017 Housing Needs Assessment)
Support Sustainable Homeownership
The 2017 Housing Needs Assessment concluded that there is a scarcity of good quality moderate income owner-occupied single-family homes. Likewise, the 2012 study found “A substantial proportion of Hudson’s homeowners are ‘housing cost burdened.’” Forty-two percent pay more than the recommended 30 percent of income to housing costs. Hudson homeownership is below the national average. Black households have a homeownership rate that is only 45 percent of white households.
I'm not sure if there is a widespread desire for more affordable homeowner opportunities. For those that do have interest, we should work to improve opportunities.
Homeownership is an important step in economic opportunity. In a 2018 study, Goodman and Mayer report “Our Overall Conclusion: homeownership is a valuable institution. On average, it allows families to build wealth and serves as a measure of financial security.”
The 2017 Housing Needs Assessment found that credit issues and lack of housing stock contributed to this problem. Second homeowners as well as younger buyers moving to the County have increased housing pressures.
Below are some established methods of improving affordable housing. None of these are guaranteed to solve the problem and will depend on the specifics of implementation. We should explore them and assess how they would be implemented and if their is popular support.
Create a Plan
We should develop a plan that addresses our range of housing needs. A plan helps build a roadmap and consensus. Without a plan, we run the risk of affordable housing stakeholders opposing a specific affordable housing proposal because it doesn’t address a different specific need. A plan establishes a vision and creates a coalition to support it.
For more on this, watch the February 2017 Housing Forum, particularly the comments of panelist Matthew Nelson.
The 2017 Housing Needs Assessment maps out needs for income levels and number of bedrooms.
The Hudson Mayor's Housing Task Force has issued the Strategic Housing Action Plan working on creating a plan and once finalized, the Hudson Community Development & Planning Agency will likely adopt the plan and work to move forward.
Funded by a grant from Enterprise adn NYS Attorney General, The City of Hudson has created an Anti-displacement Project Team that is researching community-based solutions.
Create a Housing Coordinator Position
The first recommendation of the Strategic Housing Action Plan (SHAP) is to create a Housing Coordinator position.
In order for a fully integrated approach to address the housing needs of the City of Hudson and Columbia County, a full time coordinator is needed. The [Housing Coordinator (HC)] would have the responsibility of managing, tracking, and providing technical assistance and coordination of housing services among community based organizations in Hudson to ensure implementation of the SHAP. The HC would also act as a single point of contact and facilitate applications for state and federal grant opportunities. The HC would also monitor housing conditions and act as a liaison between the City of Hudson, Columbia County and community based agencies.
There are many overlapping departments and agencies that work on housing, yet we aren't getting the solutions we need. A paid staff member responsible for moving us forward could have a huge impact. Given our current expenses around housing scarcity, including emergency housing for the homeless, an effective housing coordinator could save costs over the long-term. The Housing Coordinator would facilitate development and increase the full spectrum of housing, including emergency, transitional, workforce, and senior. Tasks would include:
- Identify potential sites for development
- Connect and recruit potential developers
- Explore the creation of a Columbia County land bank
- Explore funding opportunities to make development economically feasible, including tax-credits and grants
- Explore regranting opportunities, including first-time home buyers and home repairs
- Support municipalities to update comprehensive plans
- Work with relevant agencies, organizations, departments, and municipalities to synergize affordable housing efforts
The Columbia Economic Development Council has allocated staff time to identifying potential sites and recruiting developers for the creation of affordable housing. DSS is coordinating amongst agencies. Columbia County should continue to build on and increase this commitment.
Preserve Current Housing
The 2017 Housing Needs Assessment recommends preserving the current housing stock. It states that the “City of Hudson (zip code 12534) has an overall housing vacancy rate of 16.2 percent as of 2015, which suggests a level of disinvestment.” It recommends enhancing amenities and improving code enforcement. The 2012 study recommends education programs for homeowners and potential homeowners. These programs could help people make better informed decisions and more effective at hiring and managing contractors. We may also be able to facilitate improvements through historic preservation and energy efficiency tax credits. Or more directly, we could create or facilitate grant fund programs for lower income homeowners and landlords who rent to lower income tenants. There are a few proposals in the Downtown Revitalization Initiative that could advance some of these needs. Galvan Housing Resources also provides some of these services and it’s worth looking into ways to improve them.
Demolition or conversion of housing stock, such as the proposal to expand Stewart’s, should not be granted unless they add back the additional housing.
Subsidize Affordable Housing
We could encourage affordable housing by providing financial incentives that compensate for lower rental or purchase income. See The Cost of Affordable Housing for a great overview of how this works.
Some options include:
- Reduction in taxes to providers through a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT)
- State funds
- Sale of government property at a reduced cost
Require Affordable Housing
One way to ensure affordable housing is to require a few affordable units on large construction projects. This would be easiest to implement when it involves government or government related property, such as the Kaz development by the Hudson City Development Corporation.
Encourage More Units Through Zoning and Regulation
We should adjust policy to ensure more housing. If we have more housing, then options are likely to increase and prices are likely to go down.
- Consider a vacancy tax to discourage empty buildings and put more units on the market.
- Review zoning for opportunities to encourage density—consider structures in alleyways and building height. The changes could include the ease of restrictions or specific rewards for affordable housing.
- Review short-term rentals such as AirBnb and consider if a tax and/or regulation would help with housing stock. The County is creating a subcommittee to explore this topic.
Actively Create Housing
In addition to the above proposals, the County and City should consider more direct ways of creating more housing. Columbia County should consider creating a land bank, a quasi governmental nonprofit designed to acquire and facilitate the use of properties. As of November 2018, The New York Attorney General’s Office has invested over $82,000,000 in land banks. Columbia County is missing out on this funding opportunity.
In addition, The City or County could enact a real estate transfer tax to help fund the project. In the tax, a small percentage, .1 percent for example, is levied on real estate purchases. Red Hook, NY uses this tax to fund farmland protection. Several states use a real estate transfer tax to fund affordable housing. The tax rate could be progressive where it increases based on the sale. Similarly, Hudson’s lodging tax could be adjusted to support affordable housing.
We need to make sure that people are aware of the available opportunities. There should be better efforts to collect and publicize programs and services.
Current Efforts and Programs
There are a number of overlapping efforts to address affordable housing.
Columbia County Board of Supervisors
In 2017, the Board of Supervisors commissioned the Housing Needs Assessment that was referenced throughout these notes. The Economic Development Committee will be reviewing the study and identifying next steps. Come to our next meeting.
City of Hudson Housing and Transportation Committee
Housing Task Force
Hudson Community Development & Planning Agency
Affordable Housing Hudson
Over the last year, Affordable Housing Hudson has organized three forums on affordable housing and periodically sends out updates on related events. Get in touch or sign up for the newsletter by emailing Rebecca Wolff.
This community planning process engages residents and local leaders in creating healthier environments for kids and families.
Galvan operates programs that promote homeownership and prevent foreclosures.
Columbia County Department of Social Services
Department of Social Services (DSS) contracts with St. Catherine’s to provide home finding services for their clients.
25 Railroad Avenue
Hudson, NY 12534
Columbia County Department of Fair Housing
Advocate for tenant's rights including issues around housing discrimination, evictions, tenant-landlord disputes, and legal representation referrals.
Tell me what you think of the proposals and if you would like to help explore ways to best implement it. Contact me.