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Housing Board examines affordable housing priorities

AMENIA — Closing the year 2021 with a thorough discussion about local housing, the Amenia Housing Board (AHB) assessed the affordable housing recommendations it received from the consulting firm AKRF on Dec. 14 of last year and which housing priorities mattered to its members last Nov. 9.

Both of those meetings in 2021 were held via Zoom.

At the December meeting, now town Councilman and then AHB lead Leo Blackman raised the recommendations AKRF provided as part of a study on encouraging affordable housing, zoning changes and so on.

Along with considering the financial side of implementing the recommendations in town, Blackman said the AHB must consider which recommendations should be prioritized.

Blackman touched on AKRF’s recommendations for financial incentives, accessory dwelling units, additional multi-family zoning and changing Amenia’s Comprehensive Plan to accommodate changes to the town’s zoning code. He also said it should outline the cost ranges AKRF Planning Consultant Ashley Levy provided for specific tasks.

“I do think if the town is serious about making changes to encourage affordable housing, then they’re ready to make some zoning changes and they’re going to need to pay some money to do that,” Blackman said.

AHB member Jeff Barnett-Winsby suggested using some of the money Amenia is anticipating from Silo Ridge to fund the zoning changes.

“This feels like planting a seed and it’s going to take a little while to get this stuff going,” he said, “but if we don’t start to incentivize or at least pave the way to put in place an RFP [Request for Proposals] that has advantages for people we’re trying to inspire to work with us, if we don’t start this now, when do we start it?”

Looking ahead, Blackman said the next step would be to meet with a planning consultant to find out what needs to be changed. The AHB could also work with the Town Board to draft RFPs the AHB can publish to outline Amenia’s benefits and needs as well as the AHB’s long-term goals.

The AHB’s priorities were touched upon at its November meeting, with Blackman emphasizing, “We need to decide what we think is most important to start with in terms of encouraging affordable housing.”

As a group, Blackman said the AHB should prepare to make a presentation to the Town Board and request a certain amount of money to see its goals realized, adding AHB members should be mindful of what they want to accomplish.

To keep the board in the loop about housing discussions taking place across the region, Blackman mentioned his participation in the Housing Ambassador Training Program’s first virtual training session on Oct. 28, 2021. Describing the session as “interesting,” he said, “Part of it was about how to talk to people about housing, to realize there’s a benefit to everyone in the community for having affordable housing. Some of it was about why there is inadequate housing now and that there is not strategic production of housing in the region.”

Blackman also shared his interest in learning what the median income is in Dutchess County, what that means in terms of what a person can pay per month and what kind of job that income might entail for the average resident.

As an example, he said residents earning in the 50% annual medium income range (with an annual salary of around $51,500), potential jobs might include hairdressers, landscapers and preschool teachers; for someone in the 30% annual income range, they might have a job as a waiter, food preparation worker or a cashier.

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