Housing summit addresses local housing crisis

Green geothermal and energy-efficient construction is explored


LOCH SHELDRAKE, NY — The Housing Summit was humming along with positive statistics about grant money for sustainable building techniques when Joe Czajka told the assembled audience that the housing gaps in Sullivan County were dismal. The summit was held on January 18 at Sullivan County Community College and was sponsored by the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development.

“The median price of a home in 2004 was $148,000 and in 2005 went up to $185,000— a rise of 25 percent in one year. That’s what’s happening in the county,” said Czajka, grant supervisor for the county’s division of planning and community development. He then compared that with the existing family income, which is in a range from $25,000 to $40,650, and pointed to a housing gap for working families.

The housing prices are rising because there is mounting pressure on developers to provide housing to match the outward migration from New York’s Orange, Rockland and Westchester counties, and New Jersey, not to mention New York City, he said.

“It now takes $60,000 annual income to buy a home with a median sale price of $185,000,” he said. With typical monthly debts, a couple intending to buy such a home will not have sufficient income to pay for it all—closing costs, monthly mortgage costs, taxes, insurance and other household debts. More and more, people will not be able to buy a house in their own community.”

What, then, is to be done for those residents of Sullivan County who are being priced out of the market in their own neighborhoods? Czajka asked. The answer is to increase the availability of affordable housing and workforce housing. But that is precisely what is not happening, he said.

“Affordable housing is housing developed through some combination of zoning incentives, cost-effective construction techniques and government subsidies that result in units rented or households purchased to people who can not afford market-rate housing in their own communities,” Czajka said. “Workforce housing, like affordable housing, is developed through some combination of zoning incentives and cost-effective construction techniques, but without government subsidies. It is primarily developed for moderate income individuals and families with family income ranges between $40,000 and $60,000.”

This type of housing, also, may be difficult for many county residents to afford.

There is an answer

“Don’t be depressed,” he said. “There is an answer.”

He then began to list some of the answers. They are: design and fund home ownership programs; enforce property maintenance laws; use alternative and green building or geothermal technologies; establish tax phase-ins for new homeowners; set aside some affordable housing in every new development; construct new affordable homes; construct new family rental units; create housing options for seniors; and create partnerships between private sector, the government and non-profit groups.

This listing was followed by another long list of funding and grant agencies, both public and private, like the Home Program, the Housing Trust Fund, the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, USDA, and others that can help a builder or developer create affordable housing.

“These funding agencies I have listed are ready to assist developers and builders,” Czajka said. “It’s being done in other places and it can be done here.”

After the conference, Czajka said, “It’s not going to happen overnight. It may take 18 months for a developer to succeed in getting the funding, but the funding is there if he has the gumption. If we could construct 50 affordable apartment units a year, I think we’d be hitting a home run. On the home side, if we demanded that 15 percent of every development is affordable homes, we’d really be doing something valuable.”

Two reactions to the conference

An engineer who attended the conference from Keystone Associates Architects and Engineers in Binghamton, whose company is opening an office in Monticello, said, “The conference was fine, but it’s disappointing to see all the bureaucracy that you must go through to get at the funding. The average person would find it overwhelming to steer through the maze. It’s not just in Sullivan County. It’s the same in Binghamton.”

“Is anybody doing it— going after these funds? I don’t think so,” said Dick Riseling of Apple Pond Farming Center, who attended the meeting and is deeply involved in sustainable living issues. “The next meeting has to bring four loan officers from four different banks and a bunch of developers sitting here doing the negotiations and making the commitments, saying, ‘We will do it.’ The partnership should be dedicated to this, not just running a conference, and the planning department should have a full-time person working on nothing else. The money’s sitting there and nobody is using it. These builders and developers don’t have the time or the money to work through this themselves. They need help.”

A challenge to the industry

Don Perry, Vice President of the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development, who put the conference together, laid down a challenge to the attendees from the real estate and construction industries.

“We put this conference together because we are interested in the real estate and construction industries growing in new directions,” Perry said. “The whole idea of green geothermal building and energy efficient building is going to intensify in our area and neighboring areas. The competition is going to be intense. The best way to meet that competition is to develop some of these new building technologies. Green buildings are not just for tree huggers, and are not far out in the future. It’s about now. We in the partnership want to help you change your practice to meet the new challenges of the present.”

TRR photo by Tom Kane
Melissa Everett, Executive Director of Hudson Sustainable Hudson Valley, addresses the January 18 Housing Summit at Sullivan County Community College. (Click for larger version)