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How To Keep Beacon Real Estate Affordable
Perhaps 'Granny Flats' are the answer.
In Beacon, NY: No Ceilings, Brian PJ Cronin and David MacIntyre manage to condense the 100-year history and the past 10 years of explosive real estate growth of Beacon into a single article in Upstate House.
I'll leave aside the obligatory Revolutionary War mentions about Mount Beacon -- 'At 1,611 feet, it’s not the tallest mountain in the state by a longshot, but as the site where George Washington’s troops would set signal fires during the Revolutionary War, it was the most culturally significant mountain for Colonial-era New Yorkers' -- and also the authors' nod to the art and music scenes in Beacon, and instead let's jump right to real estate.
“Beacon’s a really cool city and it just keeps getting cooler,” says Charlotte Guernsey, a Beacon resident who opened Gate House Realty in 2001.
The unparalleled growth has not been without its consequences. With the attention has come gentrification, with many long-time residents, senior citizens, and marginalized groups being priced out of town. New housing is being built at a furious clip, but much of it has ended up driving real estate prices up while also angering locals who feel that the taller buildings and questionable architectural decisions detract from the small-town feel that made the city so livable in the first place.
Beacon’s real estate market had been booming for 10 years, and the pandemic has shifted it into overdrive. Guernsey remembers the first time, in 2005, when the city’s inventory of detached, single-family homes, dropped from its usual level of around a 100 or so to around 50. “We were beside ourselves,” she recalls. As of press time it was 23, and every agent in her office is working with between six and 12 buyers. “ Lots of buyers and not much to sell,” Guernsey says. “That’s it in a nutshell.”
As of press time, a three-bedroom, two-bath, 2,000-square-foot condo built in 1973 was listed at $259,000. Detached houses were starting around $320,000. Most of the highest-priced listings in town are actually new condos being built in some of those controversial new developments. If you want more than one bedroom, that’s probably going to cost you at least $750,000, topping out at $1.3 million for a two-bedroom, two-bath, 2,641-square-foot.
The pandemic bump in Beacon house prices seems to be around $100,000, according to the Poughkeepsie Journal, rising 21.3% since June 2020.
And, in Dutchess, the average sales price of a single-family detached home increased by nearly $100,000 in the last year, according to Mid-Hudson Multiple Listing Service, which covers most, but not all, of the county's listings.
A lot of the folks in my neighborhood who have lived here longer than the past ten years seem to be cashing in at this local peak. If you bought a place for $140,000 in 2009 and can sell it for over $400,000 today, it certainly looks like a good idea, especially if your dream is to retire in South Carolina or Maine. But the end result is quickening gentrification, making it harder and harder for people working in the local economy to afford Beacon.
Back in January, Jeff Simms wrote Reporter’s Notebook: Does Beacon Have Enough Affordable Housing?, and summarized discussions of the past few years at the Beacon City Council about affordable housing in Beacon:
Nearly two years ago, I wrote about the ongoing City Council discussion regarding affordable housing in Beacon. At the time, the first apartments built as part of the city’s workforce housing program were becoming available, but at prices (beginning at around $1,500 per month) some found startling.
Later that year, the council talked about utilizing the Emergency Tenant Protection Act, a state law that allows counties to create boards to enforce rent stabilization. However, some of the steps required, including a citywide housing survey, were pushed to a back burner when the COVID-19 shutdown hit several months later.
In the two years since, the city has heard consistently from residents that what’s been done isn’t enough. The discussion will be revisited again soon, and I expect there will be a significant push to get something done, ongoing pandemic or not.
Council Member Dan Aymar-Blair said during a meeting this month that “we made a lot of progress bringing new development into balance last year, but we haven’t fulfilled our obligation to the public to truly get development under control until we get the prices under control.”
He went on to cite several segments of the city’s population he believes are being priced out: senior citizens who can’t afford to downsize, college students who can’t move home with their degrees and working class, mostly non-white, residents who simply can’t make ends meet.
The numbers back him up.
Rent has risen only 6% in Beacon on average, but 92% of all rentals are above $1000 per month, and 45% are above $1500 per month.
In the final analysis, Beacon is not an affordable place to rent for households making less than $6000 per month, or $72,000 per year (using the rule of thumb that housing should be no more than 25% of your income). And buying a home is now unaffordable for anyone who is not ready to make an all-cash offer on a $400,000 home, which rules out all but the wealthy.
One approach to solving some aspects of this affordability issue is that provided by Accessory Dwelling Units, or ‘granny flats’. At present — based on interactions with the Beacon Building Department — there seems to be a hiatus on granting building applications for ADUs, although the City code includes a definition of ADUs, that seems to allow them.
However, two New York legislators — Assembly Member Harvey Epstein of Manhattan and state Sen. Pete Harckham of Westchester— have introduced legislation to make ADUs legal statewide, and to limit local municipalities’ restrictions on ADUs, or outlawing them altogether. As Eric Kober reports, this legislation would
legalize accessory dwelling units statewide. These are second units on lots currently occupied by single-family homes -- for example, in a basement or a converted garage. These units can provide housing for relatives, such as a homeowner’s aging parents or their adult children. They can also provide housing for household employees, like home care aides. However, their greatest potential is as investment units, providing income to the homeowner and relatively affordable rental.
The law would overrule local zoning restrictions that often are designed to exclude ADUs and would lay out a standard statewide process to develop and use ADUs.
This legislation is supported by ‘a coalition of housing advocacy groups’, (unnamed) and provides a way to make cities like Beacon more affordable for young people, people on a fixed income, and those who can’t keep up with the steep rise of suburban New York City housing prices.
We’ll have to see what the legislature does, but such a law could open up a lot of lower-cost rentals in Beacon, and across the state.