Amenia’s affordable housing

After two years of work and public hearings, the Amenia Town Board has voted to update its laws to preserve and encourage affordable housing.

In its own words: “The Town Board of the Town of Amenia seeks to update the existing Workforce Housing Law and other relevant Zoning Code sections to preserve and encourage affordable housing units within the Town, promote the construction of moderate-income housing units within the Town, and clarify the approvals and administrative process within the Workforce Housing Law.”

The vote, reported on Page One of this newspaper by reporter Leila Hawken, comes as a recognition of a housing problem that has persisted over time, resulting in a shortage for those with moderate incomes, including those who work in Amenia and provide volunteer services to the town.

In a review last summer of real estate offerings, Amenia officials working on an update of the comprehensive plan found that homes on small lots were priced at $300,000, while those on larger lots ranged from $630,000 to several million dollars.

The story was much the same for rental offerings, which ranged from $1,275 per month for an apartment to $8,500 per month for a large single-family home. By comparison, showing how the market has changed, in a 2007 comprehensive plan update the rent for nearly 45% of Amenia’s rental units was between $500 and $749.

By the town’s definition, a “workforce housing unit” is one that is either a single or multifamily housing unit – or lot in a residential subdivision approved for construction of such a unit – that is owned or rented by an income-eligible household.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the generally accepted definition of affordability is for a household to pay no more than 30% of its annual income on housing.

Those who pay more than that are considered “cost burdened.”

By some estimates that were created last fall, nearly 30% of Amenia’s homeowners pay at least 30% of their income toward housing, and 46% of renters pay that much. Nearly 1 in 10 homeowners in the town pay at least 50% of their income toward housing, and nearly 1 in 4 renters pays that much of their income for housing.

Councilman Leo Blackman thanked the Amenia Housing Board and the planning consultant, AKRF Inc. of New York City, for the work.

Housing Board Chairman Charles Miller said he was “pleased and excited” by the vote and sees the move toward addressing affordable housing needs as proceeding “one step at a time.”

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