Declines to vote on proposal; extends public hearing
By Jeff Simms
Beacon council members, some of whom expected to vote on an affordable housing law on April 17 after the latest in a series of public hearings, have opted to wait and talk more about the proposal. It will be discussed again at the council’s workshop on April 24, with another hearing scheduled for May 1.
The latest draft of the proposal, which has been revised numerous times over the last year, sets income qualifications and creates a ranking system for applicants to receive below-market rate rent. The goal is to make sure people are not “priced out” of Beacon as developers add hundreds of apartments and condos, many of them high end, to the housing stock.
As of last week, there are 299 units under construction in Beacon and another 198 that have been approved by the Planning Board. The board is reviewing an additional 409, with 327 more in discussion but not yet ready for review, said Building Inspector Tim Dexter.
As written, the proposal would integrate below-market rate (BMR) housing throughout the city for residents earning up to 90 percent of the Dutchess County median income, which last year for a family of four was $87,100. It would give priority to emergency responders and municipal and public school employees.
Some developers argue the proposal is too restrictive and would discourage new investment. But during the April 17 hearing, resident Samantha Britton contended that “this city does not need any more luxury buildings, artists’ lofts or pricey studios.”
Mary Linge, the director of real estate development for Hudson River Housing, one of the agencies that has advised the city on the proposal, said that “the healthiest of communities are going to be ones that have mixed-income housing. There’s not any community that’s fully affluent that doesn’t need affordable housing.”
A sticking point for developers appears to be whether the law should apply to housing sales as well as rentals and if they will be rewarded for building affordable units. Currently, projects with 20 or more units must make 10 percent of the development affordable. The new law would lower the threshold to projects with 10 or more units, although Dexter said he knows of few projects in Beacon that are that small.
Still, “with these numbers, you are making development close to impossible to work,” said Zachary Lewis, a Main Street developer, during a hearing on April 3. “You have to think about risk/reward here, as I am taking a greater risk here with less reward than I could for better money and a safer investment in Brooklyn, where these issues do not arise. You’re in effect de-incentivizing development on Main Street.”
Another point of contention has been a “bonus” the law would provide developers by allowing them to build extra market-rate units in exchange for including additional affordable ones. The proposal offers one market-rate unit for every two extra (beyond what the law requires) that are affordable, capped at 10 market-rate units, although developers want the bonus increased.
“Density is how these affordable units can be produced,” argued Taylor Palmer, an attorney representing a number of Beacon developers.
The council this week voted 5 to 2 to continue its public hearing on May 1, almost a year after its first hearing on the issue, with Ali Muhammad and Mayor Randy Casale dissenting.
“We’ve heard the same stuff from the same people over and over again,” Casale lamented. “We always want to kick the can and never make a decision.”