The rent's coming due

What if people can't pay it?

By ANNEMAIRE SCHUETZ
Posted 8/4/21

SULLIVAN COUNTY — If you’re in desperate need of housing, now is not a good time.

Apartment rents are up 9.2 percent in 2021.

June’s median sale price for Sullivan County …

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The rent's coming due

What if people can't pay it?

Posted

SULLIVAN COUNTY — If you’re in desperate need of housing, now is not a good time.

Apartment rents are up 9.2 percent in 2021.

June’s median sale price for Sullivan County houses is $225,000—that’s up 35 percent from the beginning of the year. In Wayne County, it’s $230,000, up almost 35 percent from last year. Pike County? $232,500, up a staggering 44 percent.

It’s okay—maybe not great, but okay—if you have enough money for a down payment or security deposit, a good credit report, and enough income to keep paying for the place. But what if you don’t? And if you’re a tenant who hasn’t kept up with the rent, you may be worried. The eviction moratorium ended in Pennsylvania on July 31 and in New York it ends on August 31.

What choices do people have?

Subsidized housing

The Woodridge Housing Authority (WHA) has 40 units, ranging from one to five-bedroom apartments. It’s small compared to the towers in New York City, but it fills the same need: decent homes for people with low to extremely low incomes, the elderly, and the disabled. Housing authorities administer the program. It’s funded by Section 8, which was created back in 1974 and subsidizes rent, so eligible people only pay a percentage of their monthly income and Section 8 covers the rest.

But that umbrella is suddenly sheltering a lot more people.

“A lot of [subsidized housing] is going to [formerly] middle-income families,” said Rosalind Natale, executive director of the WHA. These are people who once had jobs, they had security, and the pandemic knocked it away.  A lot of middle-income families have fallen into that category…[most] may not realize. There are not a lot of programs for middle-income people.”

People with low incomes stayed in place, she said, so they aren’t looking for housing. Still, she knows that “a lot of people are behind on their rent.” Come September, they may have to move.

Subsidized housing only has a limited number of places and there are waiting lists in Sullivan County, as can be seen on the websites for the housing authorities.

It’s times like these that underscore how important it is to have subsidized housing available, Natale said. “It’s extremely important that the program stays. It’s vital to the community. We have a lengthy waiting list for a reason.”

A house, bought with help

If you’re in New York and can’t afford a home, there may be assistance. The Sullivan County Land Bank has been working with RUPCO, an Ulster County-based nonprofit affordable housing provider, to help those who qualify to buy housing.

Properties have been acquired in Liberty and Monticello, and the land bank will put modular homes on them. “These are being made available at steep subsidies to buyers who meet median income levels,” planning commissioner Freda Eisenberg wrote in an email.

Prospective buyers are required to:

  • Commit to living in the home for a minimum of 10 years to meet eligibility requirements. If they move earlier, they may have to repay the subsidies;
  • Complete an application that documents their income;
  • Obtain a home inspection; and
  • Commit to a housing counseling session and do online home-buyer education.

Other projects are in the works. “The Land Bank just received a variance needed from the Monticello Zoning Board of Appeals to rehab a multi-family building on High Street into four affordable apartments,” Eisenberg wrote.

In addition, they’re working with RUPCO and the Kearney Group to develop about 100 new affordable units in Land Bank-owned properties on Broadway and High Street.

Kearney, a Somers, NY-based development firm, works with agencies and officials to renovate blighted, historic or multi-family properties. Affordable housing is part of their work, and the Chestnut Street Apartment complex in Liberty is one of their projects.

“Everything we do [in the land bank and RUPCO] is focused on quality affordable housing,” Eisenberg wrote. Anyone interested should contact the land bank at 845/807-0541.

The homeless

Emergency rental assistance is still available. As of June, 361 families have completed applications, Sullivan County Health and Family Services Commissioner John Liddle said at a June 1 committee meeting. He suggested that applicants don’t delay on handing in applications; after all, the rent is still due.

Other types of emergency assistance are possible; applications are taken Monday through Friday at the department of family services office in Liberty. Being homeless, being evicted with no place to go, lack of food, fuel or utilities, or being abused and in need of help count as emergencies.

Family services saw a spike in homeless numbers earlier in the summer, Liddle said in an email, but that has stabilized. In the winter, the county found 50 homeless people and that number has risen to 65 as of July 26.

Is development the answer?

The Center for Housing Solutions and Community Initiatives, part of regional think tank Pattern for Progress, just released a report on the housing situation in the Hudson Valley.

A statement released along with the report noted the tight inventory and “pent up buyer demand” as negative factors. Those factors force up median sales prices. Every county showed an increase of $55,000 or more in values compared to the same time in 2020.

The center pointed a finger at lengthy approval processes, labor shortages, and a reluctance to agree to new development that contributed to lack of construction.

“Our research and analysis provide a strong argument for the increased construction of new single-family homes at all price points,” Pattern senior vice president Joe Czajka said. “As the median prices continue to rise, interest rates remain at historic lows, but wages are not showing signs of substantial improvement. The demand for homes priced under $275,000 is sorely needed in the Hudson Valley.”

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