WIMBY: Welcome in My Backyard

WIMBY: Welcome in My BackyardTwo words I believe are very dangerous together, though benign alone: Us. Them.

Uttered in singularity, neither word brings much to mind except perhaps a grade school spelling test or two. Uttered together in virtually any context, and the speaker has just created a dichotomy that truly does not have to exist.

Yet we do this. We speak like this daily.

“Why are they so much different than us?” “Why are they taking what belongs to us”?

And when we consider our neighborhoods, our villages and cities, we pit “us” vs. “them,” and we create the phenomenon called NIMBY. Not In My Back Yard.

Let’s be honest. When we say “Why do they have to live here with us?” that is exactly what we are saying.  We are saying that “they” don’t belong. But we do. Do we stop and think what gives us the right to make this determination? Do we stop to consider who has helped each of us along the way? Do we consider that at any moment “us” can become “them”? In fact, each of one of us is a “they” to someone else.

No. We don’t consider those questions. We move forward. We close our eyes to our neighbors who have come on hard times. We close our eyes as we walk in Kingston, focusing on the new shiny renovated spaces, the blue sky, the historic district. We close our eyes to our community. We miss the beauty that can be found in need. We miss the opportunity to be more than ourselves.

We, as individual members of our community, cannot do many things on our own. We cannot individually make the opioid drug epidemic go away. We can’t stop people from developing terminal illnesses. We cannot individually hide on our porches, behind our picture windows, behind our fear hoping that someday we will go for a walk in Kingston and all of the people who make us uncomfortable — just because they are them and not us — have been cared for by someone else because we don’t want to do it.

But, a community that decides to do right by everyone who is a member of that community, can collectively do anything.

It starts with admitting to ourselves that we all know right from wrong. We were all taught this at some point. And, even if we weren’t, we know right from wrong because we are human.

We share this community, but we do not get to choose who our community members are. Learn about the community, love the community, enjoy your neighborhoods, parks and restaurants.

But never forget that this community is our community, collectively. Beautiful, ugly, new, old, rich, poor, homeowners and homeless. No matter how hard we try to separate “us” from “them,” it is impossible because it is not reality, nor should it be.

I offer WIMBY. Welcome In My Back Yard. Let’s change the conversation. Let’s open ourselves up to the opportunities that come when we avail ourselves to them.

Let’s be WE.

And most of all, let us do what is right.

Eliza Bozenski, RUPCO Advisory CouncilEliza Bozenski is a member of RUPCO’s Advisory Council since 2017. She also works as Director of Anderson Foundation for Autism, and has been with that organization since 2006.

Landmark Place Planning Department Materials

Landmark Place aerial site map

On this page, you will find the materials relevant to Landmark Place, as requested by the City of Kingston’s Planning Department for ongoing conversations at City Hall, 420 Broadway, Kingston. Submit information requests and questions through the form below. (Last updated 7/17/17)

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Proposed housing brings historic building back to its roots of serving public need

Alms House, 300 Flatbush Avenue, Kingston, built circa 1874RUPCO, the Hudson Valley’s premier developer and operator of affordable housing, and the Ulster County Economic Development Alliance (UCEDA) took an important step today toward rising to the challenge of providing a housing solution to many of the County’s most vulnerable residents. In keeping with Governor Cuomo’s call this year to construct 1200 units of housing of supportive housing for the homeless across the state, the UCEDA entered a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with RUPCO to sell the County’s historic Alms House site at 300 Flatbush Avenue to RUPCO who plans to develop a 66-unit, integrated housing campus to provide housing for the homeless and seniors.

The property currently features the City of Kingston’s historic Alms House built circa 1874, and fronts on both Flatbush Avenue and Route 9W. RUPCO expects to repurpose the existing structure with 34 units of single-resident apartments. The Kingston Supportive Housing proposal also includes new construction of 32 apartments, age-restricted to seniors age 55 and over. 35 of the apartments will offer support services to a mix of homeless populations with special needs including veterans and frail or disabled seniors.

“The MOU is an important first step to redeveloping this property in response to a growing need, and we are proud to have the opportunity to make this historic site a home to some of Ulster’s most vulnerable populations,” said Kevin O’Connor, RUPCO’s Chief Executive Officer. “The use of this building as a center of supportive housing services is a natural step in the history of how the most vulnerable populations among us are treated. People who were left behind by society at the time of its construction were housed here as a ‘poor house’; later it was a hospital ward for those suffering from tuberculosis. Today, the goal is to provide the dignity of a home to everyone. That’s what we’re going to do here.”

“RUPCO has a track record for creating high quality, accessible housing units to meet the diverse needs of our population,” said Mayor Steve Noble. “I am pleased that RUPCO is focusing its efforts and resources on filling the gap in housing opportunities for those in need of supportive services, including homeless individuals and senior citizens. I am confident that should RUPCO succeed in its funding requests and approvals, residents accessing this new supportive housing campus will benefit immensely. In addition to providing good quality housing to our local residents, I am pleased that the property will be added to the tax rolls, which will benefit our entire community.”

In addition to an ever-present need for affordable senior housing, Ulster County has just 27 shelters beds to house homeless families. Between January and April 2016, the monthly average number of homeless people in Ulster County was 160. That number climbed to 177 during May. When Ulster County’s 27 shelter beds are full, the remaining homeless are placed in motels where the average length of stay is 85 days, at costs of $65 to $91 per day. The alternative to costly emergency shelter is permanent supportive housing that can save over $16,282 per person per year (according to the Corporation of Supportive Housing).

“Recidivism rates among our homeless are staggering: within the first year, the recidivism rate is 18%; at by 2 years, fully 26% of those who were homeless return to being homeless. But, homelessness doesn’t have to be chronic. Permanent supportive housing is the answer, and this a small, but critical step,” adds O’Connor. “Increasingly, affordable housing is beyond the means of many in our community and our aging baby boomer population is not immune.”

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s (NLIHC) Out of Reach report released in May 2016, the hourly wage rates of renters has gone down in Ulster County from $9.90 in 2012 to $9.26 in 2016. The hourly wage required in Ulster County to afford a 2-bedroom apartment is $22.04 and this gap is trend is growing. The 2016 fair market rent (FMR) for a 2-bedroom apartment in Ulster County is $1,146 per month, however the average wage of Ulster County renters will only support a rent of $482.

For RUPCO to move forward with Kingston Supportive Housing, the property (currently zoned residential) requires a zoning change to commercial/multifamily zoning by vote of the Kingston Common Council. The MOU shows RUPCO is ready to purchase Alms House property for $950,000, pending zoning changes and site plan approval from the City of Kingston Planning Board. Zoning and planning approvals could take six to 12 months. Once those approvals are in place, the property closing could take another three to six months. New building construction and renovation and historical preservation of the existing Alms House would begin by year-end 2017.

The property was designed by architect J.A. Wood, who also created The Stuyvesant hotel, owned by RUPCO at 289 Fair Street, Kingston. Originally constructed as a solution for care of the City’s poor, Alms House was later used as a tuberculosis ward in the 1950s and then housed the County’s Department of Health offices. In its 156-year history, the site has never been a part of the City of Kingston or Ulster County tax rolls. RUPCO’s purchase and development will place the property on both tax accounts receivable ledgers once complete.

RUPCO’s Kingston Supportive Housing proposal brings Alms House full circle, providing dignified, supportive care and services through a housing solution that serves Ulster County’s most vulnerable populations: seniors, the disabled and the homeless. The 14.86-acre site currently includes the 23,000-square foot historic main building and three smaller, storage and HVAC buildings. The proposal also calls for construction of a 4/5-story, 37,000-square-foot senior residence building designed by local architect, Dutton Architecture. The housing campus may generate up to 10-12 new jobs including a case manager, nurse, 24/7 security, on-site superintendent, property manager and maintenance support.

The historic rehabilitation of Alms House will include 34 apartments; 28 of those will be designated to permanent supportive housing for those currently homeless plus 1 on-site superintendent apartment. Approximately 2500 square feet in the historic building will be allocated to community/program space.

In the proposed new construction, 32 apartments for seniors 55 and over, includes 7 designated specifically as permanent residence to those currently homeless. Approximately 3500 square feet on the first floor will serve as community and commercial space. The proposal would be financed through a series of funding opportunities including mortgage debt, private equity, 4% Low Income Housing Tax Credits, Historic Tax Credits, and other potential sources.

For 35 years, RUPCO has led the region in creating and maintaining quality, sustainable housing and rental opportunities, inspiring understanding and acceptance of affordable housing initiatives, fostering community development and revitalization, and providing opportunity to people to improve their living standards. In that time, RUPCO has established a successful track record as a leader in the creation and improvement of quality, sustainable housing, created strong partnerships locally and nationally, and has maintained a fiscally healthy balance sheet, allowing for flexibility and agility in providing services.  As part of its mission, RUPCO provides first-time homebuyer education, rental assistance, and senior/disabled supportive housing services. For more information, visit www.rupco.org.

A Perspective on Homelessness

IMG_3695Imagine living in an apartment with two windows which were constantly covered with blinds, no kitchen, a small bathroom, all the size of a walk-in bedroom closet.  Most people would think this impossible in Ulster County, New York.  But it was the life I was living ten years ago.  I used to dread my bike ride home from the local fast food restaurant, to sleep on my uncomfortable futon, and to wake up hungry, depressed and alone in the dark.

I got stuck in this living situation after leaving home at a very early age.  Forced to leave an abusive family, after getting my ass beat and then locked out of the house one too many times, I decided that sleeping on whatever couch I could find was much better.  In my opinion, this is the untold story of homelessness.  Many people believe that the homeless are drug abusers who are too lazy to get and keep a job. In many cases, it couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Many young people are forced to leave home because living on a couch is better than being abused.

Now flash-forward ten years, and I find myself working an internship for RUPCO, a nonprofit organization that helps provide affordable housing in the region.  RUPCO believes that housing is a critical component of improving communities and providing people with better lives. This bedrock of comfortable, safe and affordable living is what drives positive impacts throughout a person’s entire life.

A few weeks ago, I saw the difference that RUPCO makes first hand while on a tour of an affordable housing project on Cornell Street in Kingston, called The Lace Mill.  I was standing in one of the smaller units in the building, but it didn’t feel small at all.  This beautiful studio apartment has seven 12-foot windows, a full kitchen, and all the space that a single person would ever need. The most impressive part was that it was similar in price for what I was paying to live in a closet.

From that moment in time forward, I knew that RUPCO was making a difference and I was glad to be a part of it. Even though I am the part-time intern, I realize that being part of a company like this is a very fulfilling career path and I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time.  I encourage those who can, to volunteer or donate to a nonprofit like RUPCO; they deserve all the help that they can get.  From this experience, I’m continuing to learn why “Home Matters.”

Dan Hanson is RUPCO’s Communications Assistant and a student at SUNY-New Paltz.