By Matt Youngfrau
MONTICELLO August 13, 2002 Sullivan County is in a state of transition. As the area changes, certain growing pains will inevitably be felt. Planning and government officials agree that there will be need for expansion of such services as police, fire, ambulance, health care, and roadways.
One major issue currently being explored is a lack of available housing in the county. Nearly every public agency in the county is attempting to address that concern in various ways. Discussions have also taken place at school, village, and town board meetings.
The county itself has studied the issue extensively. A report was given to the Sullivan County Legislature's Planning and Community Development meeting on Thursday, August 1. It was mentioned that several housing projects are being built in Monticello and Bethel, but legislators stressed it was an issue that would become critical over the next few years and needed solutions.
Two issues concerning housing came up at the beginning and the end of the legislative committee day on Thursday, August 8. The initial discussion took place at the first committee meeting: Health and Family Services. The subject was broached by legislators Rodney Gaebel and Jodi Goodman.
"Jodi and I were at a meeting last night, and some old issues came up," Gaebel remarked. "How do we monitor housing for our clients? There seems to be many issues. What is our part?"
"Housing is increasingly an important and critical issue," Health and Family Services Commissioner Judith Maier responded. "For many of our clients, their grant is their income. They choose to live in inadequate housing. There is no low-income, decent housing."
Some welfare clients are paying $800 a month to live in substandard housing with inadequate equipment, said the legislators. Some of the rent is paid for by the county.
Last year, the county paid hotels to house people for a total of 2,203 nights. All told, the county paid $110,150 for the rooms. From January through July of this year, the county has already paid for 1,435 nights at a cost of $71,750.
The other complication is that less and less housing is available.
"This is our money," Goodman commented. "The housing is substandard and outrageous. How can we fund these dumps?"
"If the county were not involved, these places would be vacant," stated Legislator Bob Kunis. "We can negotiate with them."
"They could get someone else," Maier replied.
It was suggested that the county withhold the rent until the substandard homes are repaired.
"We tried to do that five or six years ago," Legislature Chair Leni Binder explained. "It was shot down in court. We need to make a deal with the landlord. It will be an expensive program."
Legislator Chris Cunningham suggested a law that would give first-time homebuyers a tax break. That was, in fact, Local Law Number 2 of 2002, but the Legislature voted to repeal that law, 6-3, in July. The issue was discussed again at the end of the day on Thursday, August 8 at the Executive Committee meeting.
The talk centered around a resolution to authorize a public hearing on adopting Local Law Number 8 of 2002 on Thursday, August 15. The law is titled "A Local Law to Repeal Local Law Number 2 of 2002."
"I would like to revisit the issue," Cunningham commented. "We need affordable housing. It is a big problem in Sullivan County. It is difficult for a middle-class family to afford housing."
"That is not the issue," Binder responded. "Every assessor and most supervisors complained that it was a non-funded mandate. We will look at other options."
"I am not opposed to looking at the program," Gaebel stated. "It came from the state level. It is not good for us. It is almost impossible to administer."
After the spirited debate, the resolution again passed 6-3, with Cunningham, Jonathan Rouis, and Kathleen LaBuda opposed. It must still go before the full board on Thursday, August 15. It was promised that more research will be done on the issue.