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Tri-Town Coalition illuminates housing situation

AMENIA — Hoping to enlighten their fellow residents about the current state of affordable housing in Dutchess County and how to help expand access in the future, the Tri-Town Coalition (TTC) housing group held its third Regional Convening on Housing Affordability on Saturday, April 9.

The TTC covers Amenia, Pine Plains and Millerton/North East. The April 9 meeting was held from 9:30 a.m. to noon at the Amenia Town Hall gymnasium; more than 30 residents and leaders from the three communities attended.

Along with sharing the work the TTC and groups like the North East Community Center (NECC) in Millerton have done to address affordable housing, Hudson River Housing (HRH) Director of Strategic Initiatives Elizabeth Druback-Celaya talked about HRH’s work and its recent partnership with the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation to secure grants for the TTC.

Druback-Celaya said attendees would divide into four groups to tackle hurdles in creating local affordable housing. These groups were assigned to talk about changing the narrative around housing; meeting with planning and zoning boards and local government;  bringing the housing message to the state level; and interacting with developers, builders and homeowners to inform them about local needs and how to work with them.

Attending the meeting virtually was U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-NY-19).

“The work the Tri-Town Coalition is doing for quality affordable housing is so important,” he said. “We must keep doing the work to support this effort… and make sure everyone in the community has access to affordable housing.”

In addition to Delgado, representatives from the offices of State Senator Sue Serino (R-41), Assemblymember Didi Barrett (D-106) and other local leaders attended.

Senior Planner Heather LaVarnway from the Dutchess County Department of Planning and Development (DCDPD) was there to illuminate the current state of housing. She noted potential solutions in the 2022 Dutchess County Housing Needs Assessment, which can be viewed online at www.dutchessny.gov.

LaVarnway said the DCDPD hired consultants to look at the shrinking size of households; the aging population; the increasing cost burdens; how income growth has lagged compared to housing costs; and how widening income gaps have influenced the housing market.

Consultants were asked to conduct a gap analysis for homes that were owned versus homes that were rented by income; LaVarnway said they found a deficit of units for homeowners and renters at the higher end of the household income bracket and a surplus of units in the middle income bracket.

In looking at future housing projects, LaVarnway said the consultants suggested focusing on rental households earning less than $50,000 as a target group and recommended establishing goals to address housing needs. By the consultants’ calculations, it will take 2,155 interventions to resolve the county’s existing cost burden and 108 interventions per year going forward to address existing and future housing needs.

Along with developing and using a diverse toolkit, the consultants advised creating a Dutchess County Housing Trust Fund to help pay for these additional interventions and to leverage other public and private resources.

In addition to the trust fund, this diverse toolkit may include local site identification and land use updates for new construction; a rehabilitation program for existing rentals; local inclusionary and tax exemption policies; and subsidies for inclusive units in new, mixed-income developments.

Next, New York State Homes and Community Renewal Upstate East Director of Development Darren Scott gave a talk on his agency’s work to address housing needs and to fund affordable housing development.

“We all needs housing,” Scott said. “We, as a community, need affordable housing, and we need to provide it in different price points and different configurations.”

Talking about the various housing programs available in New York State, Scott said his agency offers a menu of affordable housing options based on the communities’ needs. As well as touching on the financial and capacity elements for housing projects, he shed a light on housing development options for rural communities.

Equipped with a richer understanding of housing situation and options, attendees were invited to divide into smaller groups to talk further and use their conversation groups to discuss the barriers of housing through their conversation lens.

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