Beacon to Consider Major Changes on Affordable Housing

Proposed law would increase lower-income units in new projects

By Jeff Simms

The Beacon City Council will hold a public hearing in March to discuss sweeping changes that are being proposed for the city’s affordable housing regulations. The date will be set at its Feb. 20 meeting.

The changes, which have been under discussion since last summer, about the same time that advertisements began circulating for Beacon’s first seven-figure condominiums, would fine-tune the city’s code to better maintain “a balanced mix of housing types and sizes that are affordable to a range of incomes,” which are “essential to ensuring the long-term health of the community,” according to a draft of the proposed revision.

Currently, developers building housing projects of 20 or more units must make 10 percent of the development “affordable,” or available at below-market rates. The new law would adjust that requirement to 10 percent of projects with 10 or more units.

Other major changes being considered are modifications to the income requirements for eligible households and giving priority for affordable “workforce” units to households with emergency responders, municipal and school system employees and current and former members of the military.

The wooded area on the far side of the Beacon City Hall was sold by the city to be developed (Google Maps)

Under the proposed changes, households that earn 70 percent or less of the area’s median income (AMI) would be eligible for reduced-cost housing. The AMI in Dutchess County for a family of four is $87,100, so a family of that size that earns up to $60,970 annually would be eligible under the proposed changes.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines “unaffordable” housing as requiring a household to pay more than 30 percent of its gross income on housing costs, which include rent and utilities or a mortgage payment, utilities, insurance and taxes. If the Beacon Council approves the proposed change, eligible households would be able to rent or buy affordable units at a cost not exceeding 30 percent of their income. With utilities, that works out for a four-person family to $1,524 per month.

Housing projects already approved will be grandfathered in, which was a sticking point developers argued for last year during a first round of public hearings. Language since added says projects approved by the Beacon Planning Board prior to the effective date of the proposed law may continue to set housing costs for below-market rate units at 30 percent of the county’s median income. Using the family of four example, adjusted “affordable” housing costs for grandfathered projects would be about $2,175 per month.

The current law also allows builders to deposit payments into an affordable housing fund instead of including below-market rate units in their projects. That provision would be replaced by regulations allowing developers to provide affordable units in the same building, in a separate building on the same property or on a separate property no more than 1,000 feet away.

Although the city wanted to give developers some flexibility in how housing projects are laid out, council members  have struggled with the perception that units could be segregated by income.

The proposed law would also allow developers to build up to 10 “bonus” market-rate units if they meet the affordable housing requirements.

In drawing up the proposal, city officials consulted with Hudson River Housing, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating and sustaining affordable housing in Dutchess County.

“We’re trying to keep that balance [of housing options],” said City Administrator Anthony Ruggiero. “That’s what makes us successful — we’ve got that mix.”