“It is now more important than ever that we redouble our efforts to ensure that every single resident here in our county can afford a life of dignity. During the pandemic, we have seen our frontline workers work full-time to serve us and protect us. We need to make sure they can afford to live in the community they serve every day.”
— Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan, August 19, 2020
Whether it’s a mirage built on a golden hilltop rather than a true residential oasis will be years before those in need of cheap housing will find out. The new 164-apartment Golden Hill housing development, to be built over the bones of the old Ulster County Jail in Kingston, will not be ready until October 2024.
Pat Ryan announced the selection of Philadelphia-based housing development giant Pennrose to handle the project in November 2020. Pennrose was busy jumping through the procedural loops.
It’s just not that easy to tear down the old prison and build a new Jerusalem in its place. Special permits are required. Land division must be applied for. reassignment requested. Conducted traffic studies, passed planning committee reviews, obtained positive opinions on building safety and enforcement of zoning plans. And SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review) waits all the time like a sphinx with a riddle, ready to devour development plans that don’t properly answer requests from New York State’s environmental regulations.
Poisoned land, poisoned water. These ugly consequences of hasty building will no longer be tolerated.
Pennrose has delivered five community engagement presentations in the last six months of 2021. They are still in this early stage of development. Until the time comes when they can sink the first shovel head in the dirt, they must court those whose benevolence they favor and from whose pockets they expect generosity.
About the admirer
In May 2020, the Ulster County Legislature unanimously voted to conduct an inventory of all land in the county to identify lots on which new affordable housing could be built.
The site of the old Ulster County Jail on Route 32, which occupies 41 acres of land within Kingston city limits, has been identified as an ideal location. Kingston Family Health Center is nearby. Ulster County Area Transit Headquarters is just down the hill, with grocery stores and other amenities within easy reach for local residents by bus.
To preserve the property and oversee the selection of a team to develop and manage the property, in August 2020 the county formed UCHDC (Ulster County Housing Development Corporation), a non-profit but independent body accountable to its constituents.
The Golden Hill property was transferred to the newly formed “not-for-profit corporation…to reduce the county’s burden and obligation to its disposal.” So it said in Legislative Resolution 274 of 2020.
The full market value of the transferred property is estimated at $17.7 million. The resolution requires that the district receive the net proceeds from the sale and any sale to a third party.
The charter of the UCHDC states that the sole member of the corporation is the county and that the county shall have no right or interest in the corporation’s property or assets. The district government appoints three of its five members.
part of the parking lot
Just like any other high-volume residential development coming into the leasing pipeline in Kingston, the residential project to be built on Golden Hill will seek a tax break from the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (UCIDA).
The IDA granted The Kingstonian a $16 million payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) to underwrite its parking structure and the half million dollars that Stuyvesant Charter Apartments will retain each year for the next 20 years through their PILOT agreement want. Similarly, Pennrose will seek to minimize the property taxes that would go into the county, city and school district coffers.
Part of Pennrose’s sales pitch emphasized the need for childcare in his first presentation to the community. Pennrose has repeatedly shared with the community his plans to operate a daycare center in a 5,000-square-foot central community building. Family of Woodstock, as a social services partner, has committed to operate this component.
More children entering the school system without corresponding school district tax increases dilutes the value of district-wide property taxes.
For the addition of new and affordable units on the market, Golden Hill is currently showing the most promising development projects being carried out on site. The Kingstonian will add 143 new units to the Ulster County rental pool, but the typical Ulster County rentpayer will only be able to afford 14 of those units.
While Stuyvesant Charter Apartments’ plan to offer 140 affordable units offers opportunities, the units will not be newly created. It is a renovation project and most of the units are already occupied. The actual impact of this project on the citywide housing pool is currently unknown.
While Pennrose claims that a diverse cross-section of needs are being met by its development project, the developer is judged on the metric of affordable housing created. The rental units will cost between 30 and 130 percent of the median income of $66,060 per year in the Ulster County area.
For an apartment in Ulster County to be considered affordable, rent must eat up no more than 30 percent of that figure. Pennrose states upfront that some of the homes it intends to build will cost up to four times what is considered affordable, beyond the reach of the typical Ulster County renter for whom this project was intended.
The snake eats its tail
A shortage of affordable housing in Ulster County is alarming politicians who are being told they “have to do something”. A developer who has decided to build new affordable housing stock in a short period of time is asking for a tax break. The case that is built does not only serve to solve the problem for which it was built.
Pennrose was open about his intentions from the start. It has described itself as “a nationally recognized developer of affordable, mixed-use, mixed-income, market price, and master plan communities with over 350 developments and more than 27,000 rental housing units to its credit.”
The company also manages residential properties. A UCHDC press release from the county government states that Pennrose manages over 17,000 units in 16 states. (Pennrose’s website claims it manages 11,000 units.)
In the same press release, UCHDC announced its intention to negotiate a developer agreement with Pennrose that would include an option for the developer to purchase the site once plans are finalized and funding secured.
Pennrose made it clear in its original submission of qualifications that without a PILOT agreement the deal would be a non-starter.
It’s just business
Pennrose assembled its development team for the project, tapping into Labella Associates for engineering, WRT Planning for architecture, and Family of Woodstock.
In a presentation to Kingston’s planning committee on April 4, there wasn’t much new to say that hadn’t already been said. Pennrose presented updated plans for the site, explaining the need for special permits, his desire to subdivide the property, and many green issues. She stressed her hopes for a favorable SEQR designation.
Roger Keating, senior civil engineer for LaBella Associates, stated that “80 of the 164’s units are planned as senior facilities for age restrictions of 62.” There would also be “townhouse-style units as well as three-story multi-family units that make up the rest of the other 84 units”.
State Senator Michelle Hinchey announced just before the new year that the Woodstock family had received a funding commitment totaling $1.154 million per year to provide 48 permanent housing units at the Golden Hill Apartments, which also would meet the need for affordable housing for the workforce than housing for the elderly. As part of this project, 22 units were designated for the frail elderly and 26 units to house survivors of domestic violence.
The pairing of private developers with entities representing the public interest has become commonplace. Profit and non-profit corporations are pulling their wagons together to make the most efficient use of economic realities. Even when they partner with a non-profit organization, as Pennrose did with the UCHDC, it is not suddenly a charity through the sheer benefit of association. Pennrose’s slogan is ‘brick and mortar, heart and soul’ rather than ‘we provide housing for unsafe housing’.
If the long-term need is to harness the gravitational pull of this economic engine to create more units of affordable housing for Ulster County, it will prove wise that County Council Ryan has seized the opportunity. Balancing that gain against the needs of the school district is now up to the UCHDC.
“One of our main goals with this project is to capitalize on the incredible location and all of the, uh, really special aspects of the project being built there on the hill,” said William D’Avela, speaking for Pennrose, “including the views of the mountains, access to the natural environment and surrounding hiking trails, and being able to use this space to create a really nice open public space.”