REGION — A few weeks ago local business owner Cat Wilson posted a video to her personal Instagram. She was fed up. Her friends were looking for places to live and couldn't find them anywhere; the …
REGION — A few weeks ago local business owner Cat Wilson posted a video to her personal Instagram. She was fed up. Her friends were looking for places to live and couldn't find them anywhere; the prices too high, the space unlivable.
She called on elected officials and local leaders to do something about it. Speaking with Wilson now, she says the problem persists.
“Me and every other business owner are all posting job ads and there's no one who can work right now,” Wilson said.
The problem, which existed before the pandemic, came down to people wanting to work but not being able to find a place to live.
“So there are a lot of jobs, but no affordable housing,” Wilson said.
Before living in the home she now lives in with her husband, Wilson rented at various places around Sullivan County.
But that created an unstable living situation, as either the owner would decide to sell the home or raise the rent with no forewarning.
“If we didn't own our home, I don't know what we would do,” she said. “It's impossible to find housing that's decent and affordable, and close to the major areas where people work.”
Wilson owns Forage and Gather Market in Mountaindale, a grocery and café offering sandwiches, soups and salads.
Currently they are facing a kitchen staff shortage, and made the decision to go from being closed one day a week to two. With the small staff, they plan to work 12-hour shifts five days a week.
Wilson says she could recruit some friends from outside the area to work, but, “I would have nowhere for them to live.”
Before coming to Sullivan County, Wilson lived in Denver, CO. After marijuana was legalized there, her downtown apartment went from $500 a month to $1,500 a month six months later.
Wilson worries that while that might not happen here, there will be farms popping up around the state, and where are the workers going to live?
County providing assistance
Affordable housing has long been an issue in the county, which has a poverty rate of 16 percent, according to the latest Census data.
The county instituted the Land Bank a few years ago with the mission to strengthen neighborhoods by increasing homeownership and returning properties to productive use.
So far they have acquired 61 properties and sold 12, with a total investment of $1.25 million.
Their programs include single family and multi-family home sales, vacant lot sales, demolitions, new construction and development projects.
Planning Commissioner Freda Eisenberg, who is the Chair of the Land Bank, says increasing homeownership brings all sorts of benefits to both the homeowners and the community.
Her office along with the Land Bank offers many programs and incentives to help, and they are currently looking for people who want to become homeowners.
They have a Community Development Block Grant that is offering subsidies to first-time homebuyers in the county.
They are also working with RUPCO to work with applicants to determine their eligibility and help them build credit.
Additionally, they are working on a larger project in Monticello that would provide close to 100 rental units, although that would be a few years out.
Some rental units in Monticello are already on the way. Historically, Main Street businesses would have offices and apartments above their storefront, which would generate extra income.
But decades ago the Village of Monticello changed its zoning laws to not allow apartments above stores. Eisenberg worked with the village to change that, and using grant funding from the New York Main Street Program they helped downtown building owners restore their buildings and bring them back to life.
“There's a strong case for upper-story residential [dwellings] from a financial standpoint, but also from a functional standpoint,” Eisenberg said. “When you have people living above storefronts you have a 24-hour population in a neighborhood, and that is going to result in eyes on the street, less crime and more life.”
Commissioner of Health and Family Services John Liddle said his team is working with other organizations, such as Action Toward Independence and the Monticello Housing Authority, to tackle the issue of affordable housing.
His office generally works with people who are homeless or evicted and provide them with housing and services, and hope to develop more opportunities.
“We're looking across the whole spectrum,” Liddle said.
The great migration
Due to the pandemic the housing market in Sullivan County is hot, as city dwellers flee to the country looking for fresh air and open space.
But this has an unintended consequence as it drives up market prices and houses are sold in an instant.
According to market information from the New York State Association of Realtors, housing prices in the county in 2019 on average were $141,000. In 2020 it is $230,000, representing a 63 percent increase.
The short-term rental business, like Airbnb, is also getting a boost, meaning more properties are being used for visitors and not long-term living situations.
Eisenberg said this was happening a few years ago in the Hudson Valley and has now made its way here.
“It's becoming a more lucrative way for people to own and maintain property, but what it does do is take away from the regular rental market,” she said.
If you are looking for housing assistance, contact the Land Bank at 845-807-0541 or the Department of Family Services at 845-292-0100. To apply for low-income public housing, go to www.monticelloha.org or call 845-794-6855.