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West Circular Street Workforce Housing

Friday, April 22nd, 2005 · 3 Comments

Will it benefit the city of Saratoga Springs to build a 37-unit “workforce housing” complex on the city’s west side of town, at West Circular and South Federal Streets, so that the city’s working class — those with household incomes between $12,000 and $37,000 per year — can actually afford to live in the city where they work? Or will it bring more traffic congestion, reduce precious green space, and create a crime- and drug-ridden ghetto? Those were the arguments laid out by the two fiercely opposed sides of the debate, as a standing-room only crowd gathered last night in the Community Room of the library to hear the project plans.

Everyone from leaders of the local Housing Authority to the city finance chief to city council members to the mayor were in attendance, along with the developer heading up the project proposal, Omni. After a series of brief presentations about where and what the project would be and what traffic patterns it would bring, the floor was opened up to the community to sing praise or actually say, “Not in my back yard!” One woman praised the project and spoke highly of the fact that the West side of town is the closest thing to diversity that Saratoga Springs has. An older woman snapped back at her: “It’s not your back yard!” The first woman said that she lived four blocks from the proposed site. As far as I’m concerned, that’s her back yard, but the older woman disagreed. Tempers flared and the debate carried on for nearly two hours, with both sides speaking passionately about why or why not the proposal is a good idea.

The comment that angered me the most came from a guy about my age, who said something like this: “I’m not a criminologist, but where goes low-income housing goes crime. I don’t want my streets filled with crack viles. Not in my back yard!” Right, dude. Because the single mom waiting your tables at the fancy restaurant on Broadway — who’s lucky if she’s making the equivalent of $15 an hour or $15,600 annually — can’t wait to become a crack whore in her spare time so she can turn your kids into addicts, pass out on your front lawn, and solicit you for sex. Get real. This will not be a ghetto, nor will it be filled with crack whores or gangstas. This is Saratoga Springs, the most elite of Upstate New York cities, and this is class warfare if I’ve ever seen it in action.

Elio Del Sette, who apparently knew most of the people in the room and their “working class roots,” said, as quoted by the Saratogian, “This town has grown leaps and bounds as an elitist community. I hate to think we are in a class warfare here in our city. I’m ashamed of you.”

There were a few points made by the development company that didn’t seem to be on the up and up. First, it turns out that the traffic study was done during the week of Thanksigiving, so the reported impact of the expected 20-25 cars that the project would bring during peak hours may not be totally accurate (the site is near a high school). Secondly, it seems that eight of the 37 units will be designated for working Section 8 residents, but the developer was pretty vague on the details. Lastly, details on the “gifting” of the land from the Housing Authority to the Omni company — and what happens on the site after the designated 15-year window of project management — were a bit sketchy.

One of the best points in support of the project was this: Luxury condos, which sell for anywhere from $400,000 to $1 million, were recently built on the West side of town and no one raised a stink about the traffic that those residents would bring. Ditto for proposed plans to tear down the bowling alley and build more luxury condos on the site.

Although I’m generally in support of affordable and “workforce” housing, one of the arguments in opposition to the plan does carry weight: Why concentrate all the housing into one area? What about exploring alternatives like building low-cost homes that are sprinkled throughout the city, rather than lumped into one two-and-a-half acre city plot? And why rentals? Isn’t there a way to put the $5 million that will be spent on this project toward building homes that can make the dream of home ownership a reality for those who are struggling to make ends meet?

Saratogian: Residents praise, slam housing plan / Nearly 100 people turned out on Thursday to discuss the pros and cons of a proposed work force housing complex on West Circular Street.

Tags: saratoga springs

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jonty // Apr 22, 2005 at 9:18 am

    The “rich” town over from my town (North Haledon, which tries to change its name just about every year to loose the association my home town, Haledon) recently faced a similar issue.

    Our community decided that “affordable housing” meant home ownership. Additionally, a lot of studies (objective studies, mind you) in our neighboring towns (all low income) have shown that crime goes down when home ownership (by the occupant, not a land lord) goes up.

    So in the last few developments that were built, the deal was that something like 1/4 of the homes were sold AT COST to people who applied to be in a lottery. The result is that many people I personally know (it was a large development, and most members of my ethnic group are poor) were able to buy great homes at low prices. For example, a young couple I know got a 1 bedroom condo for $80,000, and a young family I know got a 2 bedroom condo for like $150,000. The market sale price of the 2 bedroom is $345,000. (Just goes to show what the markup on the sale price is if the low-income units were sold at cost.)

    Gabe, you were looking to become involved with your community. I suggest you champion this approach. It promotes home ownership, the ownership negates many of the “low income, high crime” arguments, and the rental properties that are vacated by the new home owners are now available to other low-income invidivuals.

    To respond to your question as to why someone doesn’t sprinkle affordable housing through the city, rather than concentrating it.

    Well 37 units is not really concentrating. Not in today’s world. And also, these projects are typically public-private partnerships. The developer won’t do do a development unless it has access to a single large patch of land. Sprinkling homes throughout the city would entail higher costs, b/c the contruction sites are not centralized, and I would imagine that most of the consruction would be re-construction, rather than new construction. It’s not profitable to the developer, and the city can’t do it without the developer’s help.

    Also, you’d need a lot of empty lots or delapidated houses for that to work.

    I think I spelled delapidated wrong.


  • 2 jen a. // Apr 22, 2005 at 9:49 am

    hey jonty– good point re: promoting home ownership at cost of building, great idea. i am all for affordable housing, but my concern (i am still up in the air on the issue) with this particular project in saratoga is that it would be concentrating multiple housing projects in one small area– when the city of saratoga has a lot of other, more desirable room for expansion.
    this 2 acre lot sits adjacent to an already existing large building that is high-density, low income, disabled and elderly housing and is a stone’s throw from other subsidized housing units. all of these sit in a very small area of saratoga– an area that would benefit from preserving its public green space they will be bulldozing to put up the proposed building… just as the more ‘desirable’, less economically diverse areas of the city would benefit from more diversity, in my opinion.
    i’m 110% for an affordable housing initiative, it’s LONG overdue in this community. but i’m not convinced that is the best place. sure, it’s not ‘concentrated’ by NJ or of course NYC standards but in saratoga this project is indeed concentrating people in a very small portion of land.

  • 3 jonty // Apr 22, 2005 at 10:20 am

    I am not familiar w/ your town, but I understand your sentiments exactly. My only response is that these programs ONLY work w/ the private developer, and for whatever reason, the private developer hasn’t chosen any of those other locations.

    You might say, “well, let’s not develop here,” but the question would be whether this or any other developer would move to another location, or select another town.

    So is this an all or nothing proposition? That’s the real question.