Beacon Housing Authority, Dutchess explore adding to affordable stock
Dutchess County plans to solicit ideas from developers to add affordable housing at the Beacon Center, known to most as the DMV building, at 223 Main St.
The county plans to issue a “request for expressions of interest,” or RFEI, but has not set a timetable, said Colleen Pillus, a county representative, on Wednesday (Aug. 9).
If a project moves forward, it would likely involve reconfiguring the parking lot to create room for another building on the parcel, City Administrator Chris White told the City Council on Monday.
In addition, the Beacon Housing Authority (BHA), which manages the Forrestal Heights and Hamilton Fish Plaza low-income rental complexes, has had preliminary talks with a developer about constructing several dozen new apartments on its land, White said. The Housing Authority, which operates independently from the city, could present the council with a conceptual proposal by fall.
The two proposals breathed new life into the council’s discussion of affordable housing, which has been ongoing for months but has not led to a decision on how to move forward. The council learned during a presentation on July 24 by Dutchess County planners that the greatest rental housing need in Beacon is for people earning less than $20,000 annually — data which “says I should be looking for another program at the lower end [of income levels], meaning the Beacon Housing Authority,” Mayor Lee Kyriacou said during that meeting.
Kyriacou noted this week that he has met with Housing Authority board members and encouraged them to consider two “underutilized” parking lots on BHA property — one near Dinan Street, the other near West Center Street — as sites for development. White also said Monday that he recently walked through the BHA property with Roland Traudt, the agency’s executive director.
“The layout on the BHA property is pretty inefficient, and they’ve explored adding as many as four to five dozen apartments there,” White said.
That led the council to briefly discuss potential zoning amendments, such as doing away with minimum parking or apartment-size requirements, that would make it easier for the Housing Authority to build. If the council were to enact either of those changes, Kyriacou suggested doing so citywide, not just on BHA land.
On Tuesday, the Planning Board also discussed minimum parking requirements, a mechanism that John Clarke, a city planning consultant, said is now considered “regressive” because it adds to the cost of development (and rent) but punishes low-income renters, who are less likely to have cars. According to U.S. census data, 28 percent of working-age Beacon residents have either zero or one car available to them, Clarke said.
Traudt was out of the office this week, but, in a 2021 interview, he said that the Housing Authority’s waiting list was closed, except for seniors and people with disabilities, because it had gotten so long.
“The wait for a family could be five to eight years,” he told The Current in 2021. “I’ve been here since 2008, and there’s been a waiting list since then. If the wait is that long, there’s a problem.”
(According to Dutchess County’s annual rental housing survey, which was released last month, the waiting list at Forrestal Heights and Hamilton Fish Plaza is still closed. At the Davies South Terrace and Tompkins Terrace low-income developments, the wait is between one and three years, it said.)
At the DMV site, Clarke has long suggested partnering with Dutchess County on an infill project there. While working with the city’s Main Street Access Committee, Clarke shared sketches showing how a three-story, mixed-use building could be integrated into the site, along with a transit-linked public park.
In one scenario, he suggested a two-story public parking structure behind the buildings that could fit up to 290 spaces, more than tripling the parking available there.
The county recently received an unsolicited proposal from a developer hoping to build at the site, but Pillus said this week that she could not release details of the plan. However, White said during Monday’s council meeting that county representatives had visited the site on a Sunday to observe how the Beacon Farmers’ Market could fit into potential building plans.
While the council members were enthusiastic about the potential for affordable housing projects, Justice McCray, who represents Ward 2, said the city should take its conversation beyond housing supply “and figure out ways that we can expand access to the renter-to-homeownership pipeline and promote stability to keep people in their homes.”
“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but I want to make sure we’re doing what we can to make sure our residents have access to the tools that are available and that we’re bridging that connection,” McCray said.
At the county level, Dutchess has established a housing trust fund that includes, in addition to a housing creation program, infrastructure and pre-development support and first-time homeownership programs. It also has applied for $15 million in state funding to create a permanent shelter for people without homes.