By Rebecca Martin
On Thursday, March 23 at 6:30pm, a public hearing on the Forward Citywide Form-Based Code draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement. (“DGEIS”) will occur at Kingston City Hall. Currently, the hearing is scheduled to occur in the Common Council’s conference Room 1 indicating that the city is not anticipating many residents to attend.
UPDATE: The meeting will be moved to council chambers
KingstonCitizens.org has requested that it be moved to council chambers in order to accommodate more members of the public. Community members can make the same request by calling or writing Bartek Starodaj, Director of Housing Initiatives at (845) 334-3928 or firstname.lastname@example.org
“Resolution 50 of 2023, that passed on March 7, 2023 when the Common Council, the lead agency for the Form-Based Code State Environmental Quality Review (“SEQR”), voted to accept the draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (“DGEIS”) as complete in scope and content. The Common Council also voted to schedule a public hearing on Thursday, March 23th with an open public comment period that will continue through April 10th. ”
An important moment for the public and housing in the City of Kingston
Although we are nearing the end of the citywide Form-Based Code process, the Kingston Common Council as Lead Agency of the State Environmental Quality Review (“SEQR”) as a type 1 action has an obligation to hear from and respond to the public in its determination of whether or not the DGEIS is either adequate or deficient.
We continue to fully support a Form-Based Code for Kingston as well as the city and the council in its work to create a unique code for the Kingston community. To do that, we have identified some questions and concerns out ahead of Thursday’s public hearing. It’s important that the public is confident that the council is guided by Kingston-centric data that takes into account pandemic conditions so that the code, once passed, is inclusive to make housing affordable for all.
Affordable Housing vs. Low Income Housing
In the City of Kingston, we have often heard people speak about Affordable Housing and Low Income housing interchangeably when they are not the same.
Affordable housing defines properties that take up less than 30% of a renter’s income. Low Income housing describes residences designed to support renters struggling to keep up with rising rental costs. These distinctions are important for our new code so that Low Income families are not left behind.
According to HUD’s Median Family Income Calculation Methodology and Income limit definitions, Low Income ranges from 51% – 80% Annual Median Income (“AMI”). If the city sets Affordable Housing at 80% AMI, then according to these figures, we are at the high end of AMI for Low Income housing and may not be attainable in this climate for our Low Income families in Kingston. Furthermore, if the city plans to privatize its public housing authority units as it is currently doing, what will happen to the Very Low Income (31-50% AMI) and Extremely Low Income (0-30% AMI) families living here now? We need more definitions, requirements and incentives for other categories in order to address the housing crisis in the City of Kingston.
Ulster County vs. City of Kingston Median Income
In the DGEIS, Ulster County rather than City of Kingston median incomes are guiding affordable. At a glance, according to the US Census (2021), the City of Kingston median income is $58,840 while in Ulster County for the same period is $71,010. That sample alone proves that there are tangible differences between the two.
So why is the code using Ulster County rather than City of Kingston data for the city’s unique zoning code? In the public comments of the Kingston Community Review (Draft 2.0, line 105), staff wrote that the Ulster County Area Median Income figure is referenced “because HUD does not publish AMI levels specific to Kingston,” and that, “the current draft is simplified to reference the applicable HUD definition.”
Is the council confident that HUD does not publish AMI levels for Kingston, and is it in our community’s best interest to “simplify” during a housing crisis to turn Ulster County’s AMI into law? What is the Ulster County AMI doing or not doing to provide opportunities and access for more people who live in the City of Kingston now?
Developers may be able to opt-out of 10% Affordable Units with Payment-in-Lieu-of Affordable Housing
A Payment-in-Lieu-of Affordable Housing (“PILOAH”) is included in the Kingston Form Based Code 3.0, page 114 , where the criteria is not clearly defined, as criteria would be set and adopted by the Kingston Common Council at some later date. Here, the developer is provided an option to make a Payment-in-Lieu of Affordable Housing instead of providing on-site affordable or workforce housing units into an Affordable Housing Fund.
On March 16, Bartok Starodaj provided the council with a presentation on the housing changes to the Form-Based-Code and at that time, was not able to go into any detail about the municipalities where a PILOAH is successfully implemented or provide examples of policy of how an Affordable Housing Fund is used.
Since an Executive Order was issued in December 2020, all applicants requesting site plan approval with the City of Kingston’s Planning board building more than 5 units of housing anywhere in the City are required to have at least 10% of its units affordable without any loopholes.
Where did the PILOAH come from and is it wise for the council turn it into law in the code before policies are clearly defined? What should be considered is continuing to require 10% affordable units for all housing projects as well as to include more income ranges than is currently required now as affordable.
Council sets a special meeting to approve the Stony Run Apartments deal ahead of the Form Based Code public hearing as well as the code for housing criteria becoming law.
As the City of Kingston works on defining housing for development in its code, the council has set-up a special meeting on March 22nd to consider approving a deal with Aker Cos that would allow the developer to raise rents in vacant units unilaterally to the maximum amount allowed by the agreement or 120% AMI. An approval for 120% AMI in any capacity would preempt both the public hearing on March 23 and the Form-Based-Code process before it concludes.
1. Attend the upcoming public hearing on the Forward Citywide Form-Based Code draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS) on Thursday, March 23 at 6:30pm at Kingston City Hall. If you cannot attend in person, written comments may be emailed to Bartek Starodaj, Director of Housing Initiatives, via email@example.com or dropped off at the City Clerk’s Office. Consider the following items on housing:
- Affordable housing and low income housing are not interchangeable. The code should include more definitions, requirements and incentives for all categories of housing in order to accommodate the housing crisis in the City of Kingston;
- Kingston’s code should be informed by the most up-to-date data for the City of Kingston median income and not Ulster County;
- A Payment-in-Lieu of Affordable Housing and Affordable Housing Fund needs policies before being included in the code as law. Otherwise it should be removed.
2. Attend the Special Common Council meeting on March 22nd at 7:30pm at Kingston City Hall.
- Request that the council table the Aker deal until it has had the opportunity to respond to all additional questions during the Form-Based-Code SEQR process and adopts Kingston’s new code into law.