Orange County Partnership - News

ABG Program Tackles Pressing Need for Orange County to Address Need for Affordable, Workforce Housing

The Alliance for Balanced Growth recently staged an informative program that tackled the perplexing issue of how Orange County can offer more workforce housing in an environment of rising home prices.


The ABG meeting held at the West Hills Country Club in Middletown on March 16 was entitled “Workforce Housing: Solving the Riddle with Public-Private Partnerships” and featured keynote speakers Orange County Planning Commissioner Alan Sorensen, AICP, and Sean Kearney, vice president of residential development firm Kearney Realty & Development Group of Somers.


Commissioner Sorensen floated the idea of integrating workforce housing into large-scale commercial development projects. “Historically, large companies have built worker housing, but we have gotten away from that.” He later added, “There is a growing need in the county to provide opportunities for affordable, workforce housing and I think that is critical for the county’s future.”


Sorensen described workforce housing as being affordable for individuals who earn between 60% to 120% of the average median income. At 60%, an individual would have to earn an annual salary of $43,000 and at 120%, would earn $68,000.


The Planning Commissioner said his goal was to initiate a discussion on possible avenues to foster workforce housing. He related that municipalities could approve mixed-use zones and workforce housing overlay districts that could accommodate such developments.


He envisioned properties adjacent to large development projects, such as Amazon, Medline and Amy’s Kitchen, to include a workforce housing component. He also suggested that new development projects being proposed in the future could contain workforce housing at the site or nearby, perhaps on pad sites.


Among some of the benefits workforce housing near commercial developments would bring would be reduced commute times for workers, improved productivity, lower employee turnover and less traffic.


Kearney, who has overseen the development of more than 900 units throughout New York State and oversees the management of over 1,300 units, agreed that large commercial projects could accommodate workforce housing.


He specifically cited former or underutilized industrial sites or brownfields as being suitable for workforce housing. He related that recent changes with some lenders have allowed for more available financing for diverse income levels at new multifamily projects.


Some of the advantages to developing workforce housing at former or underutilized industrial projects is that the infrastructure is already in place, there is usually ample available land and that the commercial development itself is a job center.


“One of the great opportunities in one of these industrial tracts is to create a hamlet,” Kearney said. “You have all these available lands that have the infrastructure that can hold medium to high-density housing. Once you have that medium to high-density housing, other uses follow because you are going to have the captive audience, you will have the critical mass of units.”


The Alliance for Balanced Growth is a cooperative effort between area developers, landowners, commercial real estate professionals, engineers, land-use attorneys, construction services and the Orange County Partnership of Goshen. Their mission is straightforward—to present a strong, unified voice for responsible development in Orange County.