Spa City Residents Seek Dialogue On Affordable Housing Zoning Proposal

Dec 15, 2016

Saratoga Springs is beginning the process of reviewing its options to make living in the city more affordable and economically diverse. Many who work in the city, even with full-time jobs, cannot afford to live there, and one organization thinks it has a solution.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development implemented a new rule to the 1968 Federal Fair Housing Act. The Affirm Furthering Fair Housing rule requires cities that are recipients of HUD funding to take steps to combat housing discrimination, segregation, and reduce housing disparities.

The details were explained at a public meeting Wednesday afternoon by City Attorney Vince DeLeonardis.

“Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Means taking meaningful actions that, taken together, address significant disparities of housing needs and in access to opportunity, replacing segregated living patterns with truly integrated and balanced living patterns, transforming racially or ethnically concentrated areas of poverty into areas of opportunity,” said DeLeonardis.

So now it’s up to the city to prepare a Consolidation Plan to address those issues.

Wednesday saw the release of a detailed report on housing needs and the current market. The report affirmed that it is not just low-income families and seniors – populations that qualify for subsidized housing– that are being pushed out.

With the average single-family home listing price sitting at $504,000 last year, many with college degrees who work full-time jobs in the city cannot afford to live there. The city’s desirability has become a double-edged sword.

Renee Keeler said she began working in Saratoga Springs eight years ago.

“I have a bachelor’s degree. I’m a social worker and just can’t afford to live in Saratoga. So I lived in Ballston Spa. But even out of Saratoga it’s spreading into other areas where it’s just not affordable,” said Keeler.

She spoke in favor of a proposal by group Sustainable Saratoga called “Inclusionary Zoning.” The plan would require new housing units to dedicate a portion of their units to affordable housing.

The IZ plan, as drafted, would require 20 percent of new developments with 10 or more units be dedicated to moderate income households or 10 percent of units be dedicated to low-income households.

Sustainable Saratoga Chair Harry Moran said he believes it can work.

“It’s worked in many other communities around the country. This particular ordinance was designed for a specific real estate market here,” said Moran.

Builder John Witt takes issue with the plan.

“To build to code in the city costs and can run over $200 a square foot. Add the land, development costs, fees, do the math. Inclusionary Zoning doesn’t work,” said Witt.

City Finance Commissioner Michelle Madigan has many questions as the city weighs its options, including what actually affordability means in a city with rising prices.

“When you this Inclusionary Zoning over the entire city, what does that mean for areas of our city where some of the houses run $1.5, $2 million? Does that mean you build a $1.5 million house as the affordable house?”

Housing issues including the inclusionary zoning proposal will be further discussed at next week’s regularly scheduled city council meeting.