The Ulster County executive delivered a COVID-19 update Tuesday, announcing a series of initiatives to meet a growing need heightened by the pandemic — housing.
Democratic Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan says he will further address one of the most pressing needs.
“Frontline workers who are literally putting their lives on the line for us are now increasingly in a situation where they can’t even afford a decent place to live in their own community,” Ryan says.
“But we have to go beyond just saying ‘thank you’ to our frontline workers,” says Ryan.
And, he says, take action. Ryan unveiled four housing initiatives to help not only frontline workers, but other residents.
“And we were able to repurpose federal funding for housing need and repurpose it to specifically set up a fund of $150,000 that will help as many families as we possibly can who are struggling to pay rent,” says Ryan. “Obviously that’s not enough to help everybody, and I recognize that, but we think we’ll be able to help dozens of families in dire need of some rent relief.”
The rental assistance program will target low- and moderate-income families in compliance with Community Development Block Grant requirements. The maximum assistance proposed is $3,000 for up to three months’ rental payments, in line with average rents for a one-bedroom apartment. Ryan hopes to identify more funds for this purpose. He says the second initiative is longer term.
“We think there’s an opportunity, and the county legislature tonight will be considering a resolution that we’ve put forth, to expand the jurisdiction of the City of Kingston Land Bank to envision ultimately getting towards something that would serve the whole county,” Ryan says.
“I’ve directed our county planning department to look at county-owned properties and pieces of land that could also be put to use for the development of housing for our frontline workers and all of our working people and families in the community,” Ryan says. “We know a lack of housing inventory is one of the biggest drivers of unaffordability for everybody, across the spectrum, and so we know we need to build more housing.”
“And then, finally, in coordination again with our county legislature, we’ll be commissioning a study to examine specifically what the COVID-19 impact has been on housing,” Ryan says. “We know, and I’ve talked about, that there was already a major problem here pre-COVID, and we have some sense anecdotally that it’s gotten worse under the pressures of COVID-19, but we really want to have the data and the facts to back that up and really understand how is this played out across the county, are there opportunities to address it, and even just to really wrap our head around the need. Ultimately, that will result in an action plan.”
Also, the county has been operating a Tenant Protection Unit for more than a month.
In reviewing COVID-19 statistics, Ryan says the county continues moving in the right direction.
“We have never tested more people than we did in the last week,” says Ryan. “A lot of that was actually driven by our senior facility testing but, overall, we’re just seeing very high numbers of tests, and yet, even with much more testing happening, the number of positives continues to go down.”
Ulster County is part of the Mid-Hudson region. He says the region meets five of the state’s seven metrics required to begin Phase 1 of a four-phase reopening. Ulster County, says Ryan, meets all seven. Reopening occurs by region, not county.
Earlier in the day, during a virtual conference with the Ulster County Regional Chamber of Commerce, Ryan announced a “Reopening Support Team,” which will be managed by the county’s Department of Economic Development. The team will help guide hundreds of Ulster County businesses through all aspects of recovery and reopening in the wake of COVID-19.