Affordable housing issues and potential solutions in Columbia County were discussed in an online forum Wednesday.
The Columbia County Board of Supervisors and the Columbia Economic Development Corporation hosted a forum to discuss the Columbia County Housing Brief, a report created by Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress, a nonprofit planning policy and research organization working throughout the region.
“Accessibility to affordable housing in an environment conducive to building more supports to the local economy by creating jobs attracting workers and giving residents extra money to spend in local businesses,” said said Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell, R-Stockport. “As noted in the housing brief, Columbia County currently faces gaps between housing affordability and the income of our residents.”
The past two years have changed the dynamics of the housing market, Murell said. The county has seen an increase in home buyers from upstate, along with a trend of people working from home and the sharp rise in inflation.
Kate Stryker and Eric Pierson of Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress presented on the study during the forum.
“Housing is essential for any community in terms of the overall health of the community, its residents and the local economy,” Stryker said. “Data from the brief shows that there is a need for a wide range of housing options for renters, current homeowners and future home buyers in Columbia County.”
Home prices rose 54.7% in Columbia County between 2018 and 2021, Stryker said. During the same period, the stock of available housing fell by 58.6%. According to the presentation, median home prices rose 17.8%.
“The data shows the pandemic has had an impact on housing prices, inventory is shrinking and prices are rising,” Stryker said.
The housing brief also looked at the gap in what would be considered affordable housing based on local incomes and compared those numbers to fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the county. Pierson said that in Columbia County, the fair market rate for a two-bedroom home in 2021 is $1,028 per month and the hourly tenant wage in the county is $11 per hour. This means that the affordable monthly rent at the tenants’ wage rate is $590 per month, which is $438 more than they could afford.
“For renters and landlords, who earn a local salary, they’re going to have a hard time finding affordable housing,” Pierson said.
Spending up to 30% of household income is considered affordable, said Pierson, he explained that between 30 and 50% of household income is considered a financial burden, and that a household spending more than 50% for housing is considered to be financially heavy.
“About 30% of all households in the county are either overcrowded or severely overcrowded,” Pierson said. “And when you just look at tenants, that number goes up to about 43% of tenants are either overloaded or very overloaded.”
A number of panelists spoke during the forum about the study’s findings and potential ways the county could work to alleviate affordable housing issues. Audience members were also able to ask the panelists questions about affordable housing. Some of the report’s recommendations included supporting small incremental development of new rental housing, improving and preserving existing housing stock, increasing homeownership opportunities, and raising awareness and education about need for a wide range of housing options.
“I think the real test will not be what we learn here today, but what we do in the future,” said CEDC President and CEO F. Michael Tucker. “It’s like a strategic plan or a master plan, it’s great when you finish it, but if you put it on the shelf it really doesn’t have much value. I think we will learn from each other and I think that will probably broaden the discussion.
Over 100 people have joined the online forum.