City, private funders foresee fair-price homes

(This is the second in a series about housing in Columbia County.)

HUDSON—Nowhere in Columbia County is the housing crisis more profound than in the City of Hudson. In simple terms, many workers cannot afford to live in the city in which they work, and many longtime residents are being displaced, as landlords sell units to take profits in a housing market that was rising even before the pandemic came along and inflated it further.

A great many residents of the city cannot afford to buy a home there. The median income of city households is $39,364, less than half that of the surrounding county and far short of what would be needed to buy a home in Hudson at the median selling price of $425,000 (in 2021). Moreover, the supply of homes at what would be affordable is basically nil.

Renters fare no better. Almost two-thirds of Hudson households (roughly 2,200) are renters, and of those about 44% pay more than a third of their income for rent. That’s the amount deemed affordable by federal standards, which are just for rent and utilities. This leaves tenants short of funds for other basic necessities like food, transportation and healthcare.

Waiting lists for subsidized housing are long. Existing housing stock is old (almost two-thirds of the city’s housing was built more than 80 years ago) and often in disrepair, with the result that many homeowners have high repair and heating costs or may suffer unsafe or unhealthy conditions. Rents, already rising with gentrification, jumped significantly during the pandemic.

The city began addressing these issues in 2017, after it was granted a New York State Downtown Revitalization Initiative award. That led to the establishment of a Housing Task Force, which created a Strategic Housing Plan in 2018 and, in early 2021, to the receipt of an Anti-Displacement Learning Network grant, which allowed the city to hire a Housing Justice Coordinator to focus full-time on the city’s needs. An Affordable Housing Development Plan followed in November 2021, and it identified a shortlist of potential sites for building affordable housing. This past week, the first project, a scattered-site housing plan, was presented to the public at the Hudson Common Council meeting.

The project would be spread across three currently vacant city-owned lots that were on the 2021 Plan shortlist. On North 4th and State Street, where a parking lot is currently located, a two-floor mixed use, mixed-income building would be erected with 21 residential units and two community-oriented commercial spaces. (The developer has proposed a day-care and grocery or commercial kitchen but ultimately it will decide on the commercial uses in consultation with the city and the community). On Mill Street, across from the Charles William Park, a three-and-one-half-story building would offer 60 residential units. At both sites units would range from one to three bedrooms with monthly rents spreading across a range of $499 to $2,074 with the majority in the range of $998/month (for a one bedroom unit) and $1,198/month (for a two bedroom unit).

Such rents would be “affordable” to city residents based on the median income of the community and using the 30%-of-income affordability measure. The unit sizes and rent ranges were determined in consideration of the needs of the community as well as potentially available sources of federal and state funding for the project.

Additional housing would be built on two parcels at the top of Rossman Avenue before the road becomes Van Winkle Road, where currently there is an abandoned structure. The proposal calls for two owner-occupied townhouses, each with three bedrooms and an attached three-bedroom rental unit.

‘The scatter-site plan meets the community’s desires, as expressed in public forums…’

Mayor Kamal Johnson

City of Hudson

The projects are designed to fit the character of their respective neighborhoods and are expected to use geothermal, solar, electric heating and other “green” technology and to be LEED certified. The North 4th Street and Mill projects are within walking distance of local schools and other services, a significant benefit in a community lacking meaningful public transit and where nearly 24% of households do not have cars or other vehicles.

A “Construction Workforce Plan” projects that roughly 115 jobs will be created for the construction phase, and Kearney will also offer two paid internships to Hudson residents to acquire skills in real estate development, general construction and property management. Long term, the residential components are expected to create 3 to 5 full-time positions and the commercial uses to create 10 to 30 full-and part-time slots.

The developers have offered to buy the three vacant lots from the city for $450,000 (more than their assessed values) and to make a PILOT (Payment-In-Lieu-Of-Taxes) arrangement with the city to pay $100,000 per year for the rental units, escalating 2% per year for 30 years.

The Common Council is expected to act on the proposed purchase and PILOT arrangements this fall. Aside from the income streams to be received by the city from the projects, the city will not have a financial involvement, as the developers expect to fund the project through federal and state programs. If the Common Council approves the property sale and PILOT arrangements and federal and/or state funding is committed, the project could break ground in 2023 and units could be renting in 2024.

The development team is Kearney Realty & Development Group (Kearney) and Hudson River Housing (HRH). Kearney is an experienced developer of mixed-income, senior and supportive housing and mixed-use development, and HRH is a non-profit that develops affordable housing and provides supportive services. Both have deep roots in the Hudson Valley.

This project, when coupled with the Depot District Project at North 7th and State streets, begun before 2021 by the Galvan Foundation and already in the funding stage, will increase affordable housing stock in the city by more than 30% and represent “one of the greatest accomplishments of my administration,” Mayor Kamal Johnson said. He comes from Hudson and housing was a key issue he wanted to tackle when he took office. “The scatter-site plan meets the community’s desires, as expressed in public forums, without raising taxes, and should set a tone for housing in the city and county, meeting a critical need since the lack of affordable housing affects all the other key community resources.”

Another significant aspect of the city’s housing plans is the use of the Housing Trust Fund, established in 2021 and funded with a $500,000 state grant in 2022 to assist lower-income homeowners to make repairs and improvements to existing properties. Hudson City Housing Justice Director Michelle Tullo said the awards to city homeowners will allow residents to afford safe and healthy homes, notwithstanding increases in construction and supply costs during and since the pandemic, and to abate asbestos, lead and other hazardous or unsafe conditions. The program is in its early implementation stage.

Mayor Johnson and Director Tullo also have their eyes on a number of other steps to advance the availability of low-income and affordable housing, including the creation of a community land trust, revising the city’s Comprehensive Plan and zoning laws, and providing tenant and resident supportive services and zoning laws, and providing tenant and resident supportive services.

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