Dutchess rental survey reveals high prices in Beacon
A rental housing survey released last week by Dutchess County found an expensive and highly competitive market in Beacon, although that conclusion came with a large caveat: the managers of six of the city’s higher-density developments did not respond.
The management of only two such developments, accounting for 108 market-rate apartments (the Lofts at Beacon and the West End Lofts), responded to the survey, which has been compiled annually for the past 40 years by the Dutchess planning department. The six that did not respond include 344 Main St., 7 Creek Drive and Beacon Falls at Leonard Street.
The non-responders represent 274 units, both those rented at market rates and “affordable” apartments that provide the owners with tax credits. The survey also did not include developments approved and/or under construction in the city, such as Edgewater, 248 Tioronda and 226 Main St.
Given those limitations, apartments in Beacon were by far the most expensive in all categories — from studios to three-bedrooms — among 10 municipalities.
The survey found that the rent on a market-rate studio apartment in Beacon last year averaged $2,163 per month — almost $1,000 more than the second most-expensive, in the Town of Wappinger. According to the planners, a person would need to earn $51,160 annually to afford the county average for a studio ($1,244) and stay within a federal guideline of not spending more than 30 percent of gross income on housing, including utilities.
In Beacon, that may be impossible. “I don’t know if there are any jobs in Beacon that pay well enough to afford that kind of housing,” said City Council Member Terry Nelson.
A two-bedroom unit in Beacon costs an average of $2,398, while the county average is $1,702. A renter or family would need to make $70,400 to afford the Dutchess average and stay within the 30 percent threshold.
Dutchess planners also looked at vacancy rates as a measure of each municipality’s rental economy. Countywide vacancy for market-rate apartments was 0.9 percent, the lowest since Dutchess began conducting the survey. Vacancy for tax-credit developments, which are generally lower due to subsidized rents, was 0.5 percent.
In Beacon, the incomplete numbers showed a zero vacancy rate for market-rate apartments, which means that none were available in the developments that participated in the survey. By comparison, the national rental vacancy rate, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, for the first quarter of 2020 was 6.6 percent.
The Dutchess planners noted that “in theory, we shouldn’t have a historically low vacancy rate at the same time we have historic levels of construction.” More than 560 units were added countywide in 2020.
A vacancy rate “closer to 5 percent is a sign of a healthier rental market,” they said. “It is low enough not to negatively affect landlords, but high enough to permit tenant mobility. This extremely low rate illustrates a worsening crisis in the ability of our neighbors to secure and retain housing in Dutchess County, especially given that vacancy rates have been consistently below the 5 percent benchmark for over 20 years.”
While Beacon’s 246 affordable apartments make up nearly 15 percent of the county’s tax-credit housing stock, Council Member Dan Aymar-Blair said bluntly that Beacon “does not have an affordable housing plan.”
The city requires that 10 percent of new developments be set aside for the workforce affordable program, which gives rental priority to volunteer emergency responders and municipal and school district employees. Beacon also has, according to the Dutchess survey, more than 500 apartments that are subsidized through federal programs (commonly called Section 8), but those units have waiting lists of a year or more, or, in the case of the Davies South Terrace development, four to five years.
Aymar-Blair, who, along with Nelson, has been one of the City Council’s most persistent voices on affordability, said that Beacon does not have sufficient plans to expand the number of below-market-rate rentals or the range of offerings.
A vibrant affordable housing program means asking: “How much housing stock do we have that accommodates people at different income levels?” he said. “We need to take the first step. These are major quality-of-life issues.”