Woodstock Council Approves Funding for HomeShare Program
Woodstock City Council approved the use of federal funding for one of three proposed housing initiatives in a split vote after two council members pleaded for more money.
Supervisor Bill McKenna proposed a resolution at the Oct. 18 city council meeting to use $35,000 of U.S. bailout money to fund Woodstock HomeShare’s second year, the amount requested by program coordinators and the city’s Housing Watch Task Force. Members of the Housing Committee and the Housing Task Force expressed concern that increased funding for the HomeShare program could hurt the other two proposals.
McKenna and board members Reggie Earls and Laura Ricci voted in favor of $35,000 in funding for HomeShare Woodstock while Bennet Ratcliff and Maria-Elena Conte voted against because they supported increasing the amount to $50,000 in funding.
“Last year we talked about it. It was $150,000…$100,000 for housing and $50,000 for HomeShare. That’s what was promised,” Conte said, explaining his “no” vote. “.
“Maria Elena. You are our liaison officer. Really?” Housing committee member Urana Kinlen said with disappointment. “That’s what we’re asking now. You’re our liaison.
Ratcliff seemed to favor the $35,000, but still voted “no” because he was in favor of increased funding.
“I understand that the initial one-time payment that was requested was $50,000, and I understand that the housing committee has revised their request to $35,000. I know a payment of $15,000 was made at some point this year,” Ratcliff said. “I don’t understand why we wouldn’t want the initial one-time payment to be $50,000.”
Housing committee co-chair Susan Goldman said the official request was for $35,000. “Because we are more advanced than we were,” she explained. “I don’t remember if the initial $50,000 was a request or something we were told would be available,” Goldman said.
“No, it was promised, actually, the first year,” said Conte, who is the housing liaison with the city council.
“I don’t think we asked that,” Goldman replied.
“To be clear, $50,000 has been requested for housing initiatives. I’m willing to give everything to housing, but in the three programs you suggested,” McKenna said, referring to an initial application for ARP funds last year.
The three proposals included $35,000 for the HomeShare program, $175,000 to launch a loan program for the creation of secondary suites and $199,000 to help prepare municipal properties for housing construction.
Goldman noted that strategies began to shift as the Housing Watch Task Force and Housing Committee continued their work. “We looked at all three, and weighted them in terms of funding as we thought they should go,” Goldman said.
Goldman said it reviewed the funding with the housing committee and wanted to keep the splits for the three programs as proposed.
Ratcliff said he was willing to fund $35,000 as requested, but would add the $15,000 if planned grants do not materialize. He said the HomeShare program can quickly meet housing needs.
“The Home Share program is unique in that it’s not dictated by construction costs, and it’s not dictated by weighting and it’s not dictated by zoning. It can happen immediately and it can happen now. And that’s why I would like to put $50,000 into it,” Ratcliff said.
McKenna accepted the $35,000 demand with a caveat.
“I would say, let’s see how your funding comes in, and if you don’t get some funding, take a look at all three programs and come back to us with another request,” McKenna said.
Woodstock HomeShare is a program that connects tenants in need of affordable housing with landlords who need home improvements or just companionship, Kinlen reminded the board. Tenants provide services in exchange for reduced rent.
“We researched nine to 11 months and the research showed there was no magic bullet. We don’t treat (HomeShare) as a silver bullet. We have a bunch of initiatives that we have worked very hard on for over three and a half years,” she said. “As Maria-Elena (Conte) knows and has followed, all of these different initiatives together create solutions to the housing problem. It won’t be a thing. We don’t want to take all the money and put it in a pot. We have to work on all of them, and at the same time we have to move forward.
When the city council will take over the other two housing initiatives is uncertain.
Ratcliff took issue with the secondary suite loan program because of who is involved with Woodstock Housing Alliance, the land trust that would oversee the program. Ratcliff said there is potential for self-dealing because lead founder Kirk Ritchey also co-chairs the Housing Committee and the Housing Watch Task Force. Ratcliff argued that he could benefit from the programs he offers.
McKenna said that was up to city council at this point, but agreed there were lingering questions. “In all honesty, there were also questions in my mind. I would like to know a bit more about exactly how the loans were going to be decided, how much they were going to be and who was going to administer them,” McKenna said.
The supervisor noted that funding would not be given to Woodstock Housing Alliance all at once, but rather held in some sort of escrow and disbursed as each loan is approved.
McKenna was happy the HomeShare funding went through despite the drama.
“I am a little surprised and disappointed that there has been demagogy on the part of my colleagues. I don’t really know why they voted against when they are in favor.
Owners of short-term rentals say they’re not the problem
Members of the Woodstock STR Association attempted to make their case to the city council on October 18, as they have done in recent meetings.
“I have owned my home since 2004. I am raising my children here as much as possible and we are in favor of housing affordability, including housing affordability for our own part-time residences because we love the community and want to stay a part of and not have to give up our homes because we need the rental income to help offset maintenance costs,” said Michael Henry. “The problem with what happened with the short-term rentals proposal and the existing short-term rentals law is that it lumps everything together under the label of short-term rentals which are really very separate things. .”
Henry tried to dispel the idea that short-term rentals take away from available long-term accommodations. He argued that most members of the association have single-family homes, which would never be affordable rental housing.
“If we have to sell, these will be sold to wealthy hedge fund brothers who can afford a second home without renting it, without a connection to the city, without income for the city.”
Eileen Coppola said she needed the rental income to maintain her second home.
“I currently live in Brooklyn and work for the New York City Department of Education. And as an educator, I couldn’t afford to buy a really good place in New York and I so started looking upstate and I found some nice communities there,” she said. “I feel like we contribute a lot to the community. My property is historic , it was the Dutch Reformed Zena Church built in 1914. So, by maintaining and improving it, I contribute to the cultural history of the community.
But Emma Leigh, who was born and raised in Woodstock, cannot afford to return due to rising rents. “I was living in a shack at the top of Ohayo (Mountain Road) for $550 a month in 2014. Wow, things have changed. There are eight units for rent right now on Trulia in the town of Woodstock,” she said. “The cheapest is around $1650 and it’s a basement apartment. There’s also one that’s a two bedroom which is around $2250. Probably with utilities you’re looking at maybe $2500 per month. So that’s $30,000 per year if we’re talking about 30% of your income. I need to earn something like $90,000 per year to be able to afford this two-bedroom apartment.”
Leigh said it was “alarming and disturbing” to then move on to airbnb.com and see that there are 300 homes available for short term rental.
“When I hear people talk about short-term rentals as if it’s a necessity and a need, and yet they’re talking about non-owner occupied second homes – there are people here who don’t even have a first house. They don’t have a first place to live and they were raised here, raised here, many generations here,” said Woodstock Housing Committee member Urana Kinlen. Although there are officially around 300 short-term rentals, everyone knows there are more, she noted. “I just think we have to kind of be real here and think about people who need their first home to live in. And to raise the cap (on short-term rentals) I think that’s just crazy .”