At the outset of a vital new study about housing needs in the City of Poughkeepsie – the most important and comprehensive in decades – the authors quietly acknowledge an undeniable fissure in the community: that there is no consensus on how much more affordable housing the City should host, even while the report amply documents the crushing need for it – and helpfully offers a range of insightful recommendations, large and small.

Many, and arguably an increasing number of residents, feel that Poughkeepsie has already done its fair share (and then some) hosting affordable housing, which primarily serves as low-income housing and typically requires significant property tax subsidies, even while rebuilding the City’s tax base is a widely accepted priority.

The recent debate and lawsuit over a new proposed housing development – known as the Wallace campus – on Poughkeepsie’s Main Street exemplify this rift.

The report – prepared by Pattern for Progress, a regional policy shop in Newburgh, under a $50,000 contract by the City of Poughkeepsie – is not unsympathetic to this growing sentiment.

 “…the city is not solely responsible for providing affordable housing for the entirety of Dutchess County,” notes the report’s introduction, but adds that “the concentration of social services in Poughkeepsie, the county seat, makes it attractive for those needing those services – and that these same people often face housing challenges as well. “This responsibility,” the study intones, “must be shared by each municipality in the county.”

Such equity is a noble notion but far-fetched given most of the county’s 30 municipalities have zoning restrictions that effectively obstruct multi-family dwellings appropriate for affordable housing needs. 

The most recent (2020) rental housing survey  (see p. 16, Table 16) appears to show that roughly two-thirds of all subsidized housing available in the county is located within the City of Poughkeepsie, which has a little over 10% of the total county population.

“That means the City of Poughkeepsie is carrying more than five times its fair share of subsidized housing compared to the other municipalities in the county,” according to an analysis of county data by Norman Steinberg, of New Jersey-based Real Estate Asset Management Partners, a consulting and investment firm which has property in the city and town of Poughkeepsie. In his reckoning, Beacon hosts 21% of the county’s affordable housing, Poughkeepsie town, 5.4%, and the whole rest of the county, just 8 percent.

And the disparity keeps growing. Over a third of the City’s nearly 2,000 new housing units – recently completed or in the pipeline – over one-third are “completely affordable” projects, another 11 percent are mixed-income, with some affordable.

Meanwhile, the County is stuck trying to coax more cooperation from among the county’s 30 municipalities who enjoy home rule authority over land-use decisions and have demonstrated remarkable creativity in obstructing such developments without blatantly appearing to be doing so.

In the most recent City and County’s Consolidated Plan 2020-2024, a federally-mandated planning document, the county promises to “conduct community conversations to discuss fears” and to launch an “awareness campaign” to “build community support for more housing, particularly affordable housing.”

They have also indicated plans to conduct “education” and “testing” of “fair housing”, which refers to the anti-discriminatory provisions contained in Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988.

The upshot is that a serious effort with some traction on achieving a fairer split between the City and County of the universal challenge of affordable housing seems to have barely begun.   

This does not appear to particularly trouble City Hall. “The administration is appreciative of the work being done at the County level,” says Marc Nelson, Poughkeepsie’s City Administrator on behalf of Mayor Rob Rolison.

“Too often the conversation being had is the wrong conversation,” adds Nelson, who focused on housing issues while earning a graduate degree at Marist, “one that pits affordable against market-rate development; the better conversation is one about balance and strategic planning, and that is what the Administration has been engaged in.”

Indeed, over half of the new housing units in Poughkeepsie are market rate, the report notes, although it’s unclear how much credit is due City Hall for any of the development investments, which seems to have adopted “an anything goes’ policy, while the rest of the county’s approach to housing is anything but laissez-faire.

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