KINGSTON–Kevin O’Connor has the numbers in his head and can rattle them off with ease.
More than half of the homeless adults in the state are 50 and older, he says. On any given night, there are up to 165 homeless people in Ulster County alone.
A whopping 740 seniors in Ulster County are on a waiting list for affordable housing, and of that number, 249 are from Kingston.
It has been 16 years since the city has opened senior affordable housing. The most recent was the 40-unit Brigham Charter on O’Neil Street in 2001, O’ Connor says. Since then, other Ulster County municipalities have built 469 senior units.
All of this makes a compelling argument–at least in O’Connor’s mind–for the affordable housing complex being proposed by the nonprofit RUPCO.
Known as Landmark Place, the project calls for 66 units of senior and supportive housing at the historic Alms House site and a new building behind it.
The old building would house 34 studio units, while the new one would feature 32 one-bedroom units.
The entire campus is designated for those 55 and older.
The complex would serve “frail, disabled and vulnerable” seniors as well as veterans in need and those with substance abuse or mental health issues.
It would be staffed with around-the-clock security, a full-time supportive care manager, licensed practical nurse and live-in maintenance supervisor.
The project is estimated to cost around $20 million, according to O’Connor, RUPCO’s chief executive officer.
The agency plans to seek a payment-in-lieu-of taxes, or PILOT, in the amount of $66,000 annually, putting it on the tax rolls for the first time in its 145-year history.
“The need is striking,” O’Connor said. “Right now, six out of 10 Kingston residents are struggling to get by, and that gets harder as folks get older. People are living longer, and women are outliving men. They’re even more ill-prepared because they weren’t paid as much as men in their careers and many don’t have retirement plans.
“We should be preparing for housing that is affordable, healthy and safe and places where people can age in place,” O’Connor said, referencing the United Way’s recent report known as ALICE, an acronym for “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.”
“This (project) is independent living. Many people want to stay in Kingston. They have relatives and would like to bring their mom closer, or there are residents who have moved away and want to come back, so there’s a tremendous need. It’s just a real opportunity, and we would like to see it move forward.”
For the time being, that won’t happen. The project, in fact, has stalled due to strong opposition from those living nearby.
A Common Council vote in mid-July was not enough to approve a zoning change from single-family residential to multifamily, which would have given RUPCO a green light.
It was precipitated by a petition asking for a “super-majority” rule that requires seven votes (not five) to move it forward. The vote was five to four in favor of the rezoning.
Residents across the street from the 15-acre parcel say their concerns range from neighborhood safety to infrastructure limitations.
A drive through neighborhoods like Clifton Avenue reflects the opposition.
Signs that read “No RUPCO Alms House” line most yards, and residents out on a recent Sunday afternoon freely shared their views.
“The infrastructure in this city can’t handle it. They already said the sewer and water lines can’t take the added people and apartments,” said Allen Rowe, who lives next door to his father on Clifton Avenue.
“We already have three or four different apartments that house low-income or no-income families around us now. We’re just overloaded. It’s just going to put an extra burden on us. I applaud RUPCO for what they do. We just don’t need another one here.”
His father, who grew up on the street when the Alms House was operating, agreed.
“Forty-two percent of those on welfare live down here in three developments in the Sixth Ward. They’re on the take already. The police department deals with eight, 10, 15 calls a day for problems over there and to settle arguments. We don’t need that here,” said Myron Rowe.
Kathleen Rausch, a retired teacher, has become one of the more vocal opponents.
Her backyard on Flatbush Avenue borders the Alms House property. Rausch said she is concerned about all-around safety–not only for herself but for her young neighbors raising children.
“The project is not what it’s presented to be,” she said. “It sounds like it’s for homeless veterans and frail and disabled seniors. The truth is it’s for people who are indeed homeless but who also have severe mental problems and drug and alcohol addiction problems.
“This is a residential area with a lot of young families and young children waiting at school bus stops. We have a park, where a lot of families go, and if Mr. O’Connor from RUPCO stated that they needed full-time security on premises, we’re concerned about who’s going to provide the security for the rest of the neighborhood.”
Rausch was part of an effort to gather signatures for the petition objecting to the zoning change. It required 20 percent of residents living near the site to ask for the “super-majority” rule.
Part of the fight included community meetings to organize and strategize.
“It started out with just the neighborhood, and now, it’s grown into a movement,” she said. “People are coming from all over the city. All of them…are Kingston residents, whereas, 95 percent of RUPCO’s public speakers were all from other areas like Woodstock, Saugerties, Newburgh, Hyde Park and Shandaken. They were either clients, employees or members of agencies that support RUPCO.”
O’Connor’s enthusiasm for the project certainly has not waned since the setback, and he said he is intent on setting the record straight and “exploring options.”
“We understand that when things change, it can be difficult for folks,” he said.
“We’ve fought ‘NIMBY’ (not in my backyard) before. We spent 10 years in Woodstock to try to create some affordable housing. Around the country, people are recognizing the need to do more affordable housing. We have a housing crisis everywhere.
“We’ve seen some responses that include ‘YIMBY’ (yes in my backyard), but even one I like more is ‘QUIMBY,” quality investment in my backyard, and we think that’s really what we’re offering.”