Excerpts of Gerald Benjamin’s 06/08/17 Public Comment on RUPCO’s Landmark Place/Alms House/300 Flatbush Ave Project

Published by Gerald Benjamin on

The Alms House in Kingston is a handsome building. It is a testimonial to the city’s compassion, its commitment to the poor and to the idea of inclusion and community. It is very special that the proposed repurposing of the building sustains its use in accord with a redefined but still strongly identifiable social mission. Too many such buildings have been demolished or allowed to fall into disarray in our county – e.g. The Ulster County Poorhouse in New Paltz – diminishing our connection to our historic legacy. This wonderful city hall in which we meet today manifest’s Kingston’s understanding of the value of preserving its great architecture as working spaces, experienced and employed. You need to act again in accord with those values.

The social purpose of the proposed use of the Alms House – a building I know well from its time as a home for county offices – is essential and extraordinarily challenging. The need – still largely unmet – for affordable housing in our county and especially in Kingston is well documented in several studies, cited on the RUPCO website and confirmed by work we are doing in our research center at SUNY New Paltz now. The excessive proportion of income renters must spend for housing draws resources from other essential daily family needs – like food and clothing – diminishing their quality of life and opportunities for their children. 

My wife works for Veterans Affairs and has been involved in publicizing national efforts to eliminate homelessness for veterans. I know from her the quite direct dramatic positive effects of quality housing on the physical and mental well-being of people.

In addition to the direct effect of approving the rezoning essential for this project – and crucial for preserving this historic building – are the avoided or diminished costs that will result, many of these governmental, in the areas of health care, criminal justice system, and social services.

Some myths need to be dispelled.

What is proposed is a staffed-supported environment in which people have long term homes, not a shelter with temporary rooms or beds.

We’ve studied that property tax system in Kingston. The PILOT revenue for the city from a property that has lain dormant and before was governmental and off of the tax rolls will help reduce fiscal stress.

Residents will not be imported. This is a community effort serving people already here in Kingston, already members of this community.

Studies done elsewhere show that projects like this one do not lead to an increase in crime in the neighborhood nor do they have a negative effect on property values. Feared negative impacts just don’t happen.

I am no expert on aesthetics, so I can’t comment on that with authority. But the drawing does look pretty good to me.

Finally, it is significant that this is a RUPCO project. RUPCO is one of the most respected regional housing agencies in the state. And it is a local agency. They will live here with you and with the outcomes of their work. They perform their social mission in the context of a deep understanding of housing economics. And they have a record of success that may be seen right here in Kingston. RUPCO’s leadership and staff is effective, tenacious, highly talented, and tough minded. Kingston can assume an extra element of confidence because this is a RUPCO project.

 


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