Co-authored by John C. Cappello, Partner, J&G Law, LLP – www.jglaw.law
And Adam Bosch, President & CEO, Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress – https://www.pattern-for-progress.org
Over the course of 35 years of practice in the Land Use field, I have attended countless conferences and seminars discussing the need for affordable housing in our region. The vast majority of these are attended by housing advocates and people employed in the field of housing. I have attended just as many events focused on how to attract economic development in the Hudson Valley. A great number of these events are attended by commercial developers, realtors, and people working for entities focused on attracting and retaining commercial growth. I have always thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could get these two groups together to acknowledge that diverse, affordable and adequate housing is a key component to spurring commercial economic growth, and that economic growth can provide jobs and financial security to allow members of our community to secure housing.” Until recently, I have not been much of a matchmaker. However, it now appears that due to the efforts of several great organizations in the region, that marriage between housing advocates and economic development experts might finally be happening.
To demonstrate why this joint effort is so important, let’s take a quick look at the numbers. Recent commercial development in our region has been for tourism uses such as Resorts World Casino, Legoland, film and TV studios, as well as manufacturing and distribution centers. All those uses are valuable and create jobs and beneficial tax ratables. The wages paid to the workforce in these companies range from $37,500 to $110,000 per year. Given those wages, what are those folks able to pay for housing? The general rule is that no family should pay more than 30% of their gross annual income for housing. That includes mortgage payments and/or rent, real estate taxes, and utilities.
For a person or a family with a single-wage earner making $70,000 per year, they would be able to afford to pay up to $1,750 per month for housing needs, whether the home is owned or rented. This annual wage would allow for the purchase of the home, priced at approximately $156,000, including taxes and insurance. This assumes that the family would be able to qualify for a mortgage and save approximately $9,400 for a 5% down payment and approximately $5,000-$10,000 for closing costs.
The gap between incomes and housing prices pervades the entire Hudson Valley. An analysis by Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress found median-earning families throughout the region can only qualify for a mortgage that falls at least $100,000 short of the median-prices home in all nine counties immediately north of New York City. For example, the median-earning family in Sullivan County would qualify for a mortgage of approximately $134,000. The median home price in Sullivan County during the third quarter of this year was $300,000, or $166,000 more than what a typical family could afford. A similar gap exists in all counties throughout the region and within our high-demand, low-supply rental market.
Although the stress of high housing costs is being felt by many segments of our workforce, the trouble is particularly acute for low-wage earners who tend to work in a wide range of service jobs that we value. That includes people like grocery store clerks, waitstaff at restaurants, and home health aides. Meanwhile, all people in our region like to have their grocery shelves fully stocked, enjoy a nice meal at a restaurant with their families, or know that someone will be there to care for our frail and elderly. Yet the high cost of housing makes it hard for the people we need and value to live, work, and provide these services in our communities.
In many cases, the high cost of housing compels these people to leave the Hudson Valley. If a family must spend 40% of its income to live in the Hudson Valley and only 30% to live somewhere else, it is more likely to move to that area for a better quality of life. That is why migration data shows a steady outflow of people from our region to neighboring states and to southern states like Florida and the Carolinas, where they find a less costly standard of living. A net total of 134,505 people have left the region since 1996, and a survey by the U.S. Census Bureau found that housing is the No. 1 reason for them going elsewhere. What’s more, for those who stay, the lack of disposable income reduces the amount those families can spend on goods and services at local businesses, creating a drag on the regional economy.
There are many other connections between housing and our economic vibrancy. For example, a company that might invest in the region will want to know that there is housing available nearby to sustain the workforce it needs. If a company has options, why would it locate in a region that needs to pay its employees 20% to 30% more to afford housing in this region compared to other areas in the state and country?
From an environmental perspective, the likelihood that much of our workforce is commuting from other less-expensive areas into the region increases the time spent in vehicles and thereby increases emissions that adversely impact the environment.
In recognition of this fact, Gov. Kathy Hochul has continued to explore opportunities to support initiatives, new laws, and other efforts to spur diverse and affordable housing opportunities. Just recently, she unveiled a process to become a certified pro-housing community. Communities that achieve this certification will receive extra priority for the state’s discretionary funds and grant programs, such as the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, which is a resource for communities to improve their housing stock, attract businesses, and improve the overall quality of life.
As lower births, outward migration, and the high cost of housing begin to put palpable stress on our workforce, more and more people are starting to understand the connections between affordable housing and economic prosperity. You will hear many economists use the phrase “residential leads commercial.” In other words, businesses invest where people are living and thriving. People live and thrive where there is an ample supply of housing that they can afford.
This article appeared in the December 2023 edition of Sullivan County Partnership In the Know Magazine.
This is not to be considered legal advice. You should contact an attorney to discuss your specific situation.