Frequently Asked Questions
What is the housing crisis and what is causing it?
The housing crisis can generally be explained as an increase in rents and housing prices while incomes remain stagnant, requiring households to pay a larger and larger portion of their income towards housing. The impact of the crisis varies widely including longtime county residents being priced out of purchasing homes all the way to renters being unable to afford rising rents resulting in evictions.
There are many compounding factors that are contributing to the housing crisis and its impacts in Ulster County. A few of the key factors are listed below:
- Increasing Demand: Over the past 10 – 20 years, Ulster County and the Hudson Valley have experienced a steady influx of new residents, largely from the New York City metropolitan area, generating increased demand in the housing market for both renters and buyers.
- Limited Housing Supply: At the same time, the county has seen limited development of new affordable, workforce, and middle-income housing, as well as rental properties, increasing pressure on the housing market and driving up rents and home prices.
- COVID-19 Pandemic: The COVID-19 pandemic further increased the demand for housing in the county with residents from the New York City metropolitan area and other locations looking to relocate to upstate New York as many jobs allowed employees to work remotely full-time or part-time (hybrid).
- Short-Term Rentals: Over the past approximately ten years, the rise of Short-Term Rental (STRs) such as AirBNB and VRBO, specifically STRs rented as entire homes or apartments, have reduced the available supply of permanent housing to renters and potential buyers, adding to the already existing shortage of affordable housing in the county.
How do you define affordable housing?
The definition of affordable housing varies depending on its context. A commonly used definition of affordable housing and the one used by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is housing in which the occupant is paying no more than 30% of their annual income for housing costs, including utilities. Under this definition, households paying more than 30% of household income on housing costs are considered cost-burdened households and those paying more than 50% of household income on housing costs are considered severely cost burdened.
Area Median Income, also known as “A-M-I” is the household income for the median/‘middle’ household in a given region. Thus, if you were to line up each household from poorest to wealthiest, the household in the very middle would be considered the median. The middle or median income of an area is utilized to benchmark incomes levels and highlight the need for programs or services within a given community. The income benchmarks are calculated and adjusted based on family/household size. Therefore, a single individual will have a lower income threshold than a family of four.
The HUD calculates AMI for all counties including Ulster County annually. The 2022 AMI for Ulster County is $96,000 and varies based on household size.
For information, visit the New York State Homes and Community Renewal page on AMI and income criteria for funding and affordable housing.
What is workforce housing?
The term “workforce” is generally understood to mean middle-class workers and households that are essential to normal functioning of communities (i.e., firemen, teachers, nurses, medical personnel, service workers). Workforce housing is then understood as housing options (both rental units and ownership of single or multi-family homes) that are affordable for the workforce population and is located in or near the communities they work in. Workforce housing is generally considered affordable or families earning 81% to 120% AMI.
What is a Housing-Smart Community?
A Housing-Smart Community is a community that is proactively enacting housing and land use policies that allow for and support the development of new affordable and workforce housing while maintaining community character and cohesion as the community grows.
Housing-Smart Community solutions require a multi-faceted approach. Policies and strategies should focus on community education on the importance of housing, strategies to preserve the existing housing stock, land-use changes to allow for a variety of housing types (e.g., multi-family homes, cottages and accessory dwelling units, single-family homes), streamlining the development review process for new homes, incentivizing the development of affordable and workforce housing, and supporting innovative housing solutions.
What is the Ulster County Housing Smart Communities Initiative?
The Ulster County Housing Smart Communities (UCHSC) is a program in the Ulster County Planning Department developed to support Ulster County municipalities in tackling the housing crisis. The goal of the program is to increase staff capacity and knowledge for Ulster County communities to develop and adopt housing-related policies that address the community’s housing affordability challenges. The program is specifically focused on the preservation and development of affordable and workforce housing to ensure County households are not displaced by increasing rents and housing prices and can remain in their communities.
How does the Housing Smart Communities certification process work?
Municipalities choosing to participate in the program will begin a certification process to become a Housing Smart Community and be awarded a certification-level (e.g., Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum) based on the number of housing-related actions taken by the community. In turn, participating municipalities will receive support services and incentives from the Ulster County Planning Department to develop and adopt housing-related policies that address the community’s housing affordability challenges.
Why should municipalities become a certified Housing Smart Community?
Many local communities in Ulster Community have limited staff and resources to help address local housing affordability challenges. By participating in the Housing Smart Communities Initiative, local municipalities will have access to additional staff capacity, consulting services, and resources to address the community’s housing affordability challenges.
What tools do local communities have to address housing affordability and housing supply issues?
While there are factors outside the control of local governments, local municipalities have considerable control over local land use regulations which can either encourage or discourage the development of new affordable, workforce, and middle-class housing. Additionally, community residents and community organizations can help support local strategies and policies to help address the community’s housing affordability challenges as well as increase the local government’s capacity to apply for funding and grants to develop new affordable and workforce housing.
Why should communities or individuals care about preserving and building affordable housing?
A healthy balance of housing options that are affordable provides a number of important community benefits.
- Economic Benefits – Individuals and communities see many economic benefits from having affordable housing opportunities. For individuals, affordable housing opportunities means they are in a better position to have financial stability and security, and they have better employment outcomes. Housing opportunities are a key part of attracting employers to a community since people in the workforce need a place to live.
- Benefits for Essential Workers – Appropriately priced housing for essential workers will help ensure that Ulster County can accommodate the types of people and families that work in these positions. If it is essential to have these workers in the local economy, then so too is it essential to provide affordable housing for them.
- Benefits for Seniors – As residents age their housing needs change. Providing suitable housing opportunities for seniors that allows them to stay in their community has both individual and community-wide benefits.
- Benefits for Children – A safe place to call home is key to giving children a strong foundation on which to build their lives. Children with safe and secure housing do better in school, are healthier and have better life outcomes.
- Benefits of Targeted Density – Increasing residential density, an often-controversial topic, can be beneficial for a community when it occurs in an appropriate location. Strategic and targeted increases to residential density provides more housing while preserving open space, utilizing existing infrastructure, and improving the efficiency of services.
- Health Benefits – A lack of housing stability can be detrimental to mental and physical health. Households that have access to safe and affordable housing are in a better position to maintain their health and well-being.
- Prevents Homelessness – Public costs that are associated with homelessness like police and emergency room costs do not address the root issue, which is a need for housing and supported services. The problem of homelessness will persist if a lack of affordable housing options continues to push people onto the streets.
- Supported and Transitional Housing Benefits – Transitional housing is designed to help break the cycle of homelessness and poverty by providing affordable units with onsite services. The numbers show that there is a need for supported and transitional housing in Ulster County. In 2020, there were 388 homeless people in the county according to a Point-in-Time count conducted by Ulster County Continuum of Care. Of those 388 homeless, 132 of them were children under the age of 18.