Decades before Dutchess could ‘catch up’
That’s the difference, according to a newly released assessment by Dutchess County, between the number of households that rent and earn less than $50,000 per year and the number of affordable units available to them.
It’s also the number of additional “interventions” that the study calculated are needed for Dutchess to resolve the housing needs of lower-income residents, or 108 interventions annually through 2042.
According to the 60-page report by county planners, the “intervention” figures include, but are not equivalent to, the construction of a housing unit. For example, while the construction of a 30-unit complex for renters earning less than $50,000 annually in Poughkeepsie would “count” as 30 interventions, less quantifiable measures are also recommended, such as rent subsidies or rehabs of units that are made affordable.
“It’s going to be a blend of tools,” Heather LaVarnway, a county planner who spearheaded the project, told Dutchess legislators on April 7.
The county last week committed nearly $20 million to lower-income housing and homelessness prevention that County Executive Marc Molinaro told legislators would include federal American Rescue Plan funding. The money will be spent on housing development, Molinaro said, along with the rehabs and probably some form of voucher for individuals, “who, with a little extra resource, might find their way to an affordable housing option.” About $2 million of the money will also be used to create a Housing Trust Fund.
The Dutchess report repeats conclusions reached in recent years in studies by the nonprofit Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress and the county’s own rental housing surveys: There’s a housing crisis in Dutchess County. Prices were high when the county did its last assessment in 2008, and they’ve only gotten higher.
The median sale price of a home has grown faster than inflation, from $255,000 in 2012 to $330,000 in 2020. From 2019 to 2020, prices jumped nearly 12 percent. It’s estimated that 21,410 households that owned homes in 2019 were “cost-burdened,” meaning that more than 30 percent of household income was spent on housing.
Of those households, 50 percent had annual incomes of less than $50,000 and 23 percent were between $50,000 and $74,999. By one estimate, just over half (52 percent) of renter households in the county were cost-burdened in 2019, the most recent figures available, and 86 percent earned less than $50,000 annually.
The median rent in Dutchess also grew faster than inflation, from $707 in 2000 to $1,038 in 2010 to $1,220 in 2019.
What is ‘Affordable’ Housing?
When elected officials, planners and developers talk about “affordable” housing, it is usually a reference to how much household income a renter or homeowner must commit. The assumption is that housing costs, including property taxes, should not consume more than 30 percent of household income.
“Affordable” is sometimes based on the median household income of an area. So, for example, the fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in 2021 was $1,467 in Dutchess County and $2,053 in Putnam, according to figures compiled by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. The 30 percent threshold for a household earning the area median income in Dutchess ($100,500) would be $2,513 per month, or $754 per month for a lower-income household earning 30 percent of the AMI. In Putnam, where the AMI is $81,700, the 30 percent threshold would be $2,043 per month for a household earning the AMI, or $613 for those making 30 percent of the AMI.
Incomes have risen over the same time, but the biggest earners saw the biggest increases, Peter Lombardi, a consultant who worked on the study, told legislators. Households that earned about $30,000 annually in 2010 saw their income rise 5.8 percent over the next 10 years. But households that earned about $200,000 in 2010 have realized a 23 percent jump.
“As those top-earning households compete with one another over a scarce resource [housing], they exert pressure on households down the income scale,” Lombardi said. Top-income earners set the terms of the market “in ways that are felt by almost every other household.”
The situation may be even more dire than what the county figures suggest, because Census Bureau data has lagged because of the pandemic.
“I absolutely believe that it is actually worse, based on many discussions I’ve had with constituents,” said Yvette Valdes-Smith, a Democrat on the county Legislature whose district includes part of Beacon. Valdes-Smith said she has heard from numerous renters who had been saving to buy their first homes but were discouraged because it forever seemed out of reach.
The housing report recommends a “fair share” approach that would require each municipality in the county to address affordability on a per-capita basis. In Beacon, for instance, where a Pattern for Progress report showed this year that the city’s subsidized housing accounts for 21 percent of the county supply, the report proposes 100 “interventions,” at a rate of five per year for two decades.
For nearby Fishkill, East Fishkill, Wappinger and Beekman, where there may not be as many low-income units, the report calls for 30 interventions per year.
“We are a leader, in terms of our progressive zoning,” said Beacon Mayor Lee Kyriacou on Wednesday (April 13). “It serves us well in our diversity, but there’s more to do, absolutely.”
Kyriacou said he hopes the City Council will soon return to a list of housing strategies he proposed last year. The suggestions mirror some elements of the “diverse toolkit” the Dutchess study recommends for municipalities: zoning policies that simplify the creation of affordable units, such as accessory dwelling apartments; tightening up short-term rental regulations to keep rental units on the market; and developing affordable housing (and other uses) atop a city parking lot.
Kyriacou said he also hopes the Beacon Housing Authority, which manages lower-income public housing and federal Section 8 vouchers, will seek funding for construction of another high-rise apartment building.
In addition, the county report suggests that municipalities employ inclusionary zoning, in which a percentage of units in new developments must be rented or sold at below-market rates; and tax-exemption policies and more vouchers from the state or federal government.