Is There Room for Lower Incomes?

Lastar Gorton

Lastar Gorton (Photo by Valerie Shively)

Lastar Gorton says she feels invisible.

Born and raised in Beacon, the 38-year-old Tompkins Terrace resident says that as the city has grown, the people she grew up with have been left behind — either priced out and forced to move elsewhere or left to live in unsafe conditions because it’s all they can afford.

Indeed, much has changed in the city. No longer are there boarded-up storefronts dotting the mile-long Main Street. Nearly 800 condominiums, townhouses and apartments have been built in the last decade, with more than 300 more under construction now.

The city’s population has changed over the past two decades, according to U.S. Census data. The overall population has fallen by 14 percent, to 13,769, including a 36 percent drop in Black residents. Beacon today is 62 percent white, 19 percent Hispanic and 13 percent Black; in 2000, it was 68 percent white, 20 percent Black and 17 percent Hispanic.

There also have been huge economic changes. The city’s median household income has risen to $93,000 annually, with about 30 percent of households earning less than $50,000. Twenty years ago, in 2000, the median income, adjusted for inflation, was $80,000 but about 75 percent of households earned less than $50,000.

“Beacon used to be a very, very diverse place to live,” Gorton says. While growing up, she had “every type of friend” at Sargent Elementary School. “Everyone was family. Everyone looked out for everyone,” she says. “But I no longer feel that. Walking down Main Street, I feel like a stranger.”

Gorton lived in Tompkins Terrace, a low-income apartment complex on the city’s west side, until she was 5. Her family then moved to Forrestal Heights, another low-income development managed by the Beacon Housing Authority.

She and her two sons moved back to Tompkins in 2020 but, by then, Gorton says the development — which is slated for a $14.5 million renovation beginning this year — had changed.

“I call the police at least every other week,” she says. “I don’t let my younger son go outside without me.”

The City of Beacon in recent years has made efforts to increase its affordable housing stock. New developments of 10 units or more must set aside 10 percent of those units for Beacon’s “workforce” affordability program, which, for renters, is available for households making between 70 percent and 80 percent of Dutchess County’s area median income (AMI), or $80,990 to $92,560 for a household of four. It gives priority to applicants who are volunteer emergency responders, municipal employees or school district employees.

In 2016, the City Council sold a 3.14-acre parcel to a developer at less than market value on the condition that he build affordable units there. The complex, the West End Lofts, includes 72 affordable apartments, 50 of them live/work spaces for artists.

But Gorton, and many others who have spoken up in public meetings in recent years, feel that isn’t enough. The city’s workforce program and the West End Lofts both have conditions that Gorton, who works for a nonprofit agency, doesn’t meet.

The workforce program, she says, isn’t affordable for truly low-income people. Tompkins Terrace, meanwhile, restricts 38 of its 193 apartments to households earning 50 percent or less of the AMI, which, in Beacon, is equal to a four-person household earning up to $56,200. The remaining 155 apartments may be rented to households earning 60 percent or less of the AMI, or $67,440 for a household of four.

“It’s affordable to live here, but it’s not safe,” Gorton says. Referring to the West End Lofts, she says, “not everybody is an artist.”

She wants to see the city hold developers accountable to create more affordable housing for a wider range of residents — so much so that she’s considering a run later this year for City Council.

Gorton recalls diverse community gatherings such as the Fourth of July fireworks celebration at Memorial Park, or the free afternoon and summer programs at the Martin Luther King Cultural Center or the Beacon Community Center.

“People with morals, respect and dignity is who I want in this community,” she says. “I love that Beacon is thriving, but I wish the city would give back to the community. That’s the way it has always been in Beacon.”


Has Beacon Followed Its Own Blueprint?
Was Enough Done to Keep It Affordable?
Is There Room for Lower Incomes?
Recent History (A Timeline)

This series was made possible by contributions to our Special Projects Fund.

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