City of Kingston Form-Based-Code and the real barrier to creating affordable housing that the city and county planning boards are ignoring

By Rebecca Martin

At the recent Kingston Common Council Laws and Rules Committee meeting on April 19, Director of Housing Initiatives  Bartek Starodaj provided an update on Kingston Forward and Kingston’s Form-Based-Code environmental review process, announcing that the zoning code would be in front of the common council (the lead agency of the review process) soon for a vote. There was alot presented that included Parking Standards, SD Waterfront, Density, Short Term Rentals in Accessory Dwelling Units, Minimum Parking Amendments and Inclusionary Zoning Provisions.

The Kingston common council will be presented with a final Common Council Zoning Discussion #3: Implementation and Enforcement “deep dive” on Monday, April 24 at 6:30pm.  The meeting is open to the public.

HUD vs. ACS for Kingston AMIs

The Inclusionary Zoning Provision segment outlined that for seven (7) or more apartment units, the Area Median Income (AMI) is being proposed at 80% for affordable and 120% for workhouse housing units (the percentage for workhouse in the 2.0 version increased by 20% in the 3.0 version).  

120% AMI is considered market rate housing. 

According to Starodaj, the AMI was set by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) where both the City of Kingston and Ulster County AMI numbers were the same. But Ward 9 Council Member Michelle Hirsch pointed out that the American Community Survey (ACS) data, which is an ongoing survey that provides data each year about the social, economic, housing and demographic characteristics of communities, shows that the City of Kingston’s AMI is nearly $30,000 less than Ulster County’s.  For a household of four people, 80% AMI in Kingston was $47,072 while Ulster County was $76,800.  Hirsch also shared concern that those who rely on Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV), a program that enables the lowest income households in NYS to rent decent, safe housing in the private housing market by providing rental assistance, would unlikely be able to find or afford an apartment in the City of Kingston.  

Meanwhile, Bartek expressed concern that by “deepening” these percentages for those living in Kingston under 80% AMI could lead to chasing away developers from building in Kingston.

A new housing study for Kingston?

The City of Kingston has changed dramatically since it adopted its most recent comprehensive plan on April 5, 2016 and Kingston, like most communities around the US, got hammered during and following the pandemic.  Council member Hirsch asked if the City of Kingston had a housing study that would look at all the AMIs and current housing stock in the community to provide the city with a plan to help make good decisions about setting housing standards now.  “The whole point of Form-Based-Code is to provide housing for people that need housing and can’t afford it.  The incomes in Kingston don’t line up with what is being proposed here.”  she said.

PILOAH and Affordable Housing Fund

“The fear is that if the developer can’t find a way to cover affordable units in it’s development they will walk away.” – Bartek Starodaj 

Recently, wrote about the city proposing a policy that would allow developers to be able to opt-out of 10% Affordable Units with a Payment-in-Lieu-of Affordable Housing. It included an Affordable Housing Fund as a placeholder without any clarity on policy and procedure that turned up in recent version (3.0) of the Kingston Form-Based-Code.  Later, we stumbled across a request for proposal (RFP) from December of 2022 with a timeline for the city to hire a consultant for guidance on creating the fund by April even though a PILOAH hadn’t yet been adopted.

We followed up with Bartek in an email to ask what had become of the RFP where we copied local housing advocates and members of our common council. He confirmed that the city had established an RFP committee for this project, which included a representative from the Common Council (when we asked Council President Andrea Shaut, who would typically assign a council member to serve in this manner, she told us that she wasn’t aware of the committee or who from the council participated) and after reviewing the submission (s?) earlier this year ultimately declined to hire a consultant.  We asked for minutes and to learn who served on that committee, what consultants responded and why the city chose not to proceed.  After several attempts, we were told to submit a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) in order to receive that information.  

During the Laws and Rules committee meeting, Barbara Graves-Poller, the City of Kingston’s Corporation Counsel, said that she would provide the council with information about the PILOAH and the Affordable Housing Fund in the coming days. Hopefully during tomorrow’s public “deep dive” that information can be shared publicly. 

Parking requirements are one of the real barriers to creating affordable housing in Kingston

Michael Kodransky, a new resident in the City of Kingston and an urban planner, waited hours that evening in order to provide the council with his COMMENTS on what the city needed to do in order to remove barriers for the creation of more affordable housing.  

‘’What stirred my desire to share comments, is being alarmed around parking requirements of the Kingston and Ulster County planning board recommendation around the minimum parking requirements. I have been working with around 10 other people (residents) in Kingston who are equally alarmed. They include parking similar to euclidean zoning and that is not what form-based-code is. If you haven’t been following the news lately (Harpers Magazine: Lots to Lose), parking is in the news quite a lot, and the reason is is because housing crisis in Kingston is a national crisis, there’s a shortage of housing all across the nation and it’s forcing municipalities to reevaluate their parking regulations if they exist. And those municipalities like Buffalo, Hartford, that are abandoning their parking regulations are seeing new development.”

“At this juncture in Kingston to consider putting in parking requirements when there is a housing shortage, when we know according to the 2030 climate action plan that 40% of climate emissions come from driving trips, studies increasingly show that the inclusion of parking undermines multi-model policies. We don’t have any travel demand management ordinance in the city or any understanding of existing private parking that currently exists. It seems like the planning board at the city and county did a copy and paste job from guide books that are being abandoned all over the county. It’s like they haven’t been paying attention to what’s been happening over the last 20 years in the urban planning space. Every week, a new municipality around the country is abandoning their parking requirements…to see the planning board in Kingston and Ulster County recommend to put them in does not make any sense.”

“I encourage the common council to seriously look into this issue, because it increases the cost of construction, and it doesn’t seem as though the planning board on either the city or county level has spoken to any small or medium scale developers to see how this impacts their financial feasibility or banks or insurance to understand what the underwriting for small scale developments would be with these types of requirements. Essentially, these councils and boards are making market intervention recommendations without actually understanding the market implications and the implications on the production of housing. The costs of these types of requirements trickle down to everything else. Services, too.

“That is correct.” said Ward 3 council member Rennie Scott Childress.  “We agree with you.”  said Ward 4 Rita Worthington

“I encourage you to accept the code that the consultant proposed with no parking requirements. There’s a reason they did that. They listened to what people were saying and what the policy outcomes were that we asked for which is affordable housing. A place that’s connected and affordable. This is an irrational burden for developers and the community. Listen to what the consultants proposed, there is a reason. The public was asking for these outcomes that were reflected in the consultant’s recommendations.”

Mic drop.


Paying it Forward: Supports the Town and Village of St. Johnsville, NY’s Effort to Protect their Drinking Water Source from Nestle

In 2018, we learned about a potential drinking water deal between Nestle and the Town and Village of St. Johnsville, NY, North of Kingston located on the Mohawk River in the Hudson River watershed.  Quickly, we identified the advocates working on this problem and outreached to them in order to offer our support and experience from the ground where we were successful in knocking out the Niagara Bottling proposal who was looking to purchase 1.75m GPD of our drinking water supply back in 2014.

Five years later, their community wrote to alert us that they had succeeded in beating back the Nestle deal. What’s more, is that the community members who were on the frontline went on to run for office and win elections to replace both the Town Supervisor and Village Mayor in St. Johnsville, NY. 

We must pay it forward when so many community members provide their invaluable time and expertise to protect their community from the privatization of their municipal drinking water source.  In that spirit, we will continue to offer our support to communities as we have done now for a decade. We believe that those who experience the same positive result will do so, too.

When did you first learn about Nestle coming to your community?

In 2018, the St. Johnsville Chamber of Commerce announced that Nestlé Waters was granted permission to perform a study of our municipal water supply as they had an interest in sourcing water.

What were they asking for? 

At that time their request was simply to study our water supply.

What is your municipal water supply? Do community members have a say in how it’s managed or sold?

Our primary water supply comes from Congdon Springs in Ephratah, NY- about 7 miles from the village. Our secondary water source Is the Burgess Well, which is located within the village. Residents do not have a say in the way water is managed or sold.

How long have you been organizing around this problem? Can you list all of the members of your strategic group, and how did you all succeed?

Community members began watching this study since the fall of 2018. Since 2022, our group has been very actively following. Dawn White (now the new mayor of the Village of St. Johnsville), Phoebe Sitterly (now the new supervisor of the Town of St. Johnsville), Jordan McDaniel and Katrina Caringi championed this effort.

What have you learned throughout this process? 

If something doesn’t “seem right”, it probably isn’t. Don’t be afraid to stand up and advocate for what’s important!

How did help your effort?  Are you interested in providing the same support for other communities that find themselves in this position? 

Back in 2018, we met with Rebecca Martin and she was kind to offer guidance. Through time, the lessons that learned has proved to be very helpful. We were given hope that there was something that could be done to stop them and we would be happy to help other communities.

Are we on our way to privatizing public housing in the City of Kingston?

By Rebecca Martin

There are around 481 apartments managed by the Kingston Housing Authority that some say accounts for approximately 10% of the City of Kingston’s population. It is a critical source of deeply affordable and stable housing for very low and extremely low-income individuals, and particularly for people of color, single mothers, people with disabilities and seniors. 

Over the last 20 years, budgets have been dramatically slashed for annual funding for repairs and everyday operations. These cuts have impacted both the availability and the habitability of housing. It has forced residents to live with heating system and plumbing failures, water leaks, pest infestations, peeling lead paint, and harmful mold. Years of deferred maintenance has caused the cost of repairing these homes to skyrocket. Steadily, public housing in municipalities are being taken over by private investors to manage and maintain these properties.

What is the Kingston Public Housing Authority? 

According to its website, The Kingston Housing Authority (KHA) provides homes for low-income City of Kingston Families and is an organization with a proud history and enviable reputation. In 1948 its dream of quality, affordable housing for area citizens was formalized. In 1953, it was put into action with the opening of Colonial Gardens. Over the years, hundreds of apartments were constructed and have provided the foundations for family and elderly communities around Kingston.”

The Authority is governed by a seven-member board, five commissioners that are appointed by the City’s Mayor with two elected members by the tenants

Today the Housing Authority manages six different communities that include:

  • Colonial Gardens
  • Colonial Gardens Addition
  • Wiltwyck Gardens
  • Rondout Gardens
  • Stuyvesant Charter
  • Brigham Senior Housing

The KHA’s properties serve residents with Area Median Income (AMI) that, according to HUD, include Very Low Income (31-50% AMI) and Extremely Low Income (0-30% AMI). 

In a recent post, we reported on Kingston’s Form-Based-Code including in its most recent draft a Pilot-in-lieu of Affordable Housing (PILOAH) that would lead to an Affordable Housing Fund. Last week, we learned that the city staff had already hired a consultant to provide guidance on creating a fund even though a PILOAH hasn’t yet been approved. Although the verdict is still out as to whether or not that’s a good idea, if it does come into play, then this is the population that that fund should serve. 

In a 2021 report by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, DiNapoli found that the Kingston Housing Authority “did not provide adequate oversight of Authority operations. As a result: Budgets were not entered into the financial system and financial transactions were not properly captured; Adequate oversight of disbursements, bank transfers and bank reconciliations were not achieved; $6.51 million in disbursements and bank transfers were made without review or approval; $1,035 in management fees were incorrectly billed; Financial system access was not properly administered.”  

When important programs fail, it’s generally due, at least in part, to poor management.  Privatizing our public housing complexes in Kingston as a preferred solution to deferred maintenance is a bad outcome that is not well understood by the community. 

Privatizing public housing in the City of Kingston: Mountco awarded bids on Stuyvesant Charter in addition to four other public housing complexes.

At last month’s Kingston Common Council caucus, Ward 9 council member Michelle Hirsch provided an update on Kingston Housing Authority developments, including the most recent Request for Qualifications (RFQ) issued by the Kingston Housing Authority in October of 2021 of a redevelopment and new development proposal for four of Kingston’s public housing complexes that include Colonial Gardens, Colonial Gardens Addition, Wiltwyck Gardens (all state funded complexes) and Rondout Gardens (the sole federally funded complex).  

As an aside, can the KHA mix federal and state housing complexes together for an RFQ?

The RFQ request was seeking developer applications to be submitted by January of 2022 for a developer selection to be made by February, 2022.   Because the Kingston Housing Authority hasn’t any minutes or documents listed on their website, we don’t know how many applications were submitted or how the projects were rated before Mountco Construction and Development (Mountco) was awarded the bid. According to sources, they are already walking through the Colonial Gardens Addition and Rondout Gardens. If that’s true, then we presume those will be the first on their list for improvements. 

Four years ago, the Kingston Housing Authority issued an RFQ for the Stuyvesant Charter Apartments, which was also awarded to Mountco.  They are currently making renovations and moving residents into “pods” while making these improvements.  According to Hirsch’s update, a ribbon cutting is slated for May where folks from Albany are expected to attend. 

Who is Mountco, what are their goals and is our community comfortable that they are a key player in Kingston’s public housing? 

The City of Kingston looks to be well underway in privatizing its public housing complexes. According to the NYS Public Housing Law article 58, it says that the “Sale of dwelling units by authorities” of any state or federal public housing project requires the “local legislative body in the case of a municipal project” to have a say in the sale of public housing units.  Did the Kingston Common Council weigh in and if not, should they have?  What about the general public? How can we engage on what happens to public housing in Kingston in order to provide input to protect our most vulnerable residents?

If you have concerns about public housing in Kingston, you can contact your council member. Ward 3 council member Rennie Scott Childress also serves on the KHA board. You can reach out to him, too, independently to learn more.