Kingston’s fight to build senior housing at Landmark Place

todaySeptember 22, 2022 2

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KINGSTON — Sept. 20 dawned foggy and funky, however within the early morning hours Mike Atkin sweated as he completed the draft of his speech.

It was ribbon-cutting day for the second constructing at Landmark Place, a supportive housing venture for seniors inbuilt Kingston by the nonprofit RUPCO. Atkin, a Landmark Place resident since November, had been requested to kick off the festivities.

So it was that he discovered himself at 10:30 a.m., carrying a Bernie Sanders T-shirt, quaking barely in entrance of 100 folks. “I really like my little condo,” he stated to the group. “The home windows open onto a 20-mile view.”
In 2021, on the chilly day Atkin first arrived at his condo, he wasn’t enthusiastic about the view. His one thought was, It’s good to be dwelling.

It had been a bumpy street to get Landmark Place constructed. A number of years prior, scores of residents had been loudly against a growth on that web site for folks like Atkin, who’s 65. He’d been unhoused for greater than two years earlier than stepping into Landmark Place by way of a lottery. He spent his final unhoused night time bivouacked within the service entrance of a Kingston synagogue.

Atkin grew up working class in Rockland County, his dad a tool-and-die machinist, his mother a social employee. Completed highschool, tried SUNY New Paltz, however school wasn’t for him. He taught himself videography, however his fiancé resisted marriage till he made more cash. So he taught himself programming and discovered the arcana of database administration. He labored a collection of tech jobs, and his earnings climbed. Lastly: a marriage night time on the Plaza Resort, a honeymoon on the Amalfi coast. They purchased a condominium in Nanuet, and in 1999 had a son named Sam.

Life was good. Till it wasn’t.  

The as soon as and future Alms Home

Landmark Place is the most recent incarnation of the Kingston Alms Home, which has developed a number of instances in its practically 150-year historical past.

In 1872, the villages of Kingston and Rondout merged to change into town of Kingston. Within the very first Widespread Council assembly, town accepted the constructing of an almshouse, making it the primary public construction of the brand new metropolis. Opened in 1874, it was a good-looking, Italianate design by the outstanding Hudson Valley architect, John Wooden.

The Alms Home was constructed throughout a interval of reform within the housing of the destitute.  Reformers’ targets had been to remove squalid poorhouse circumstances and workhouses that had been, in impact, indentured servitude. There must be, they believed, no extra mingling of the so-called “insane” with the merely impoverished.

The Kingston Alms Home, aka the Metropolis Residence, opened in 1874. It’s pictured above in a postcard from circa 1910.

Offered by Associates of Historic Kingston

Kingston’s Alms Home housed poor folks for many years, additionally offering fundamental medical care. Residents labored on its farm and did upkeep on the 21-acre web site. However precisely how effectively the Alms Home served the residents is tough to know.

“There’s surprisingly little details about that,” stated Taylor Bruck, Ulster County historian. “These folks had been typically forgotten by historical past, even once they had been nonetheless right here. Which can in itself be a part of the story.”

From the Nineteen Fifties to the early ‘70s, the constructing served as Ulster County’s infirmary for the poor. It was remodeled but once more in 1973 into workplaces for the County Well being Division.  Forty years later, the division relocated, and the elegant outdated constructing turned vacant.

Regardless of makes an attempt to market the property, no one appeared . For greater than three years, not a single provide was made. That’s when RUPCO entered the image.

Two CEOs at odds

Kevin O’Connor, CEO of RUPCO, grew up in Hyde Park in an enormous Irish household that lived modestly, crowded right into a rental home. “I used to be at all times embarrassed as a result of my buddies all had their very own houses,” he stated.

That’s one purpose why O’Connor has spent his skilled life growing methods for folks of modest means to have a house. He has now been the CEO of RUPCO for 20 years, with 14 main tasks both accomplished or in progress.

O’Connor remembers seeing in a information story that the outdated Alms Home was up on the market. He thought the constructing might assist fill the dearth of ample housing for the poor, particularly given the determined state of native boarding homes. O’Connor had toured a number of of them round Ulster County, calling the circumstances “unbelievable” and “horrific.” 

However though the necessity was acute, he knew he’d be in for a battle. “There’s a hierarchy in housing,” he stated. “Supportive housing, particularly for the homeless, is on the backside. At all times has been.”

One among RUPCO’s obstacles was the CEO of Reis Insurance coverage, Paul Casciaro, who remembered listening to sufferers’ distressed cries by means of the home windows of the Alms Home, the place he performed on the grounds as a boy.

Casciaro insists that he’s not against the kind of housing RUPCO wished to construct on the web site. “Folks misconstrued what we had been making an attempt to say,” he stated. What he wished was for the Alms Home to as an alternative be become an financial engine, maybe a resort, and that any new housing for the poor be in a rural space.

“As a neighborhood, we’ve got a heavy focus of low-income housing,” he stated. “Can’t you do one thing else for us?”

A battle of professionals, cons and politics

Casciaro and different neighbors raised a bunch of objections to Kingston’s zoning and planning boards. Amongst them had been considerations over the pressure on getting older infrastructure; security; property values; and the tax break RUPCO would possibly obtain.

However the county had obtained no viable gives apart from RUPCO’s $950,000 proffer in September 2016. As well as, RUPCO had tried in useless to curiosity non-public builders in constructing a industrial enterprise on a part of the 14-acre web site.

RUPCO labored to handle lots of the neighborhood objections with a 46-page doc authored in Might of 2018 by its then-VP of neighborhood growth, Man Kempe. He supplied varied rebuttals, together with that native taxes wouldn’t be raised; that state grants would fund ongoing prices of Landmark Place; that the property had by no means, in its 140-plus-year historical past, paid property taxes, however would underneath RUPCO; and that 24/7 on-site safety would monitor all customer and resident comings and goings.

Kempe additionally burdened the vital scarcity of reasonably priced housing in and round Kingston, which has solely worsened within the years since, and famous that Landmark Place would really save taxpayers cash by extra effectively sheltering the unhoused:

“On any given day in Ulster County, roughly 400 folks of all ages (170 of them single folks) reside in cramped motel rooms; this momentary sheltering prices taxpayers between $1,500 and $3,000 per particular person per thirty days. The County pays 71% of this value,” Kempe wrote.

O’Connor additionally spoke to the depth of want in a February 2017 speech. Landmark Place could be the primary reasonably priced housing for destitute seniors constructed within the county since 2001. On the time, there have been 559 seniors on RUPCO’s ready record, 80 % of them from Ulster County. “Supportive housing on common saves a neighborhood $15,000 per 12 months” per particular person, in comparison with the tax burdens of emergency response, in a single day shelter stays and jail admissions, O’Connor stated.

However nobody in opposition appeared moved. An organized marketing campaign was created, with garden indicators and protests at public conferences, wherein folks repeated speaking factors akin to Landmark Place elevating their taxes.

The underside line, Kempe believes, is that “individuals are frightened by change.” Kempe additionally maintains that the opposition was, partly, pushed by politics. He says Republicans figured that “this was the grievance that will encourage their base voters.” 

Requested about political motives, Casciaro stated: “We wished a stronger voice. The neighborhood did one thing historic that most likely won’t ever occur once more in Kingston” — getting an unbiased candidate, Patrick O’Reilly, elected to the Council “as a result of he was against the venture.”

One other politically formidable participant jumped on the anti-Landmark Place bandwagon.  Vincent Rua, who ran for mayor of Kingston in 2019, assailed the venture all through 2017 and 2018, talking out at hearings and within the press. Within the June 17, 2017 situation of the Kingston Occasions, he printed an open letter to the Widespread Council arguing in opposition to the zoning change wanted for the venture to maneuver forward. Amongst different factors, he claimed there was “citywide opposition” to Landmark Place and cited the “dozens” of “NO RUPCO” garden indicators.

Rua’s mayoral bid fell brief, however he, Casciaro and others did reach pressuring Kingston officers to again away from earlier approvals of RUPCO’s proposal. A multi-family zoning variance was wanted for the property, which the opposition claimed was improperly accepted. The zoning objection reminded O’Connor of RUPCO’s lengthy battle to construct Woodstock Commons.

“In Woodstock, they stated, ‘We’re not in opposition to reasonably priced housing, it’s the setting.’ And on this case, they stated, ‘We’re not in opposition to the folks, it’s the zoning,’” O’Connor stated.

By mid-2017, it appeared just like the destiny of Landmark Place could be decided in courtroom.

A downward slide

Whereas Kingston was duking it out over what could be his future dwelling, Mike Atkin’s life was sliding downhill. In 2018, behind in youngster help funds from his divorce, he took a day without work from his job as an Uber driver to indicate up for a courtroom listening to in Rockland County. The listening to ended with Atkin being despatched to county jail to serve a 42-day sentence. “Debtor’s jail,” he known as it.

Atkin traces the start of his slide to late 1999. On the time, he held a high-pressure job supervising a gaggle of programmers, working feverishly to take care of an organization’s Y2K points. His toddler son, Sam, was doing effectively however seven months after giving beginning, his spouse suffered a post-partum stroke. She finally recovered, however Atkin’s life was by no means the identical.  

He managed to see issues by means of on the Y2K job earlier than leaving to take a better job, however the firm he joined quickly went stomach up and laid him off. Atkin started affected by medical despair and extreme anxiousness; a lot so, he was in a position to money in a non-public incapacity coverage. The money cushion helped him do what he actually wished: be a stay-at-home dad. However his spouse’s modest revenue as an elementary college trainer wasn’t sufficient to cowl bills after the incapacity cash ran out.

In 2005, Atkin tried going again to work, however the trade appeared to have handed him by, and he give up tech for good. Since he’d at all times loved driving, he figured, why not attempt that for a residing? He began a one-man taxi service, borrowing cash from his mother to get if off the bottom, nevertheless it by no means paid sufficient. He started driving for Uber in 2013. By then, the wedding was actually off the rails.

Within the 2014 divorce, Atkin agreed to offer his spouse every part — the home, the automobile, retirement accounts — in return for 36 months wherein he might proceed to reside in the home and take care of Sam, now a youngster. When that clock ran out, he spent a couple of months along with his dad and mom in senior housing, after which started residing in his automobile.

Two years, two lawsuits

The Landmark Place zoning battle was an odd one. RUPCO wanted the location to be zoned for multi-family housing. However opponents discovered an obscure statute of town code that stated if 20 % of property homeowners close by filed a petition objecting to a zoning change, then a supermajority of the Widespread Council could be required to approve it. 

In June 2017, the Council did vote in favor, however solely by a 5-4 margin. With no supermajority, RUPCO’s venture was shelved.

RUPCO challenged the hold-up in courtroom, and in December 2017, state Supreme Courtroom Choose Richard Mott sided with the group, ruling that town’s motion had been “arbitrary and capricious.” Mott discovered that for a number of causes the petition didn’t meet the statute’s necessities to invoke the supermajority rule. The ruling validated the zoning change and cleared the best way for the Planning Board to complete its assessment.

However the authorized tangles weren’t over. In August 2018, the Kingston Planning Board voted 3-2 to disclaim RUPCO’s software with out clarification. A month later, pressured to justify their votes, these opposed raised such points as potential sewer issues, lack of sidewalks and density considerations.

As soon as once more RUPCO sued town, in entrance of the identical choose, whose ruling in March of 2019 was once more of their favor. Mott dismissed the Board’s objection as, once more, “arbitrary and capricious” as a result of it contradicted its personal prior approval of the venture and neglected empirical information and knowledgeable opinions in favor of “generalized neighborhood objections.” Mott ordered the Board again to work, and after practically two years of authorized delays, Landmark Place was accepted in April 2019.

Life within the streets

As RUPCO started renovations, Mike Atkin landed on the streets. Throughout his stint in county jail, his automobile was repossessed. Rockland then despatched him to a midway home for 3 months, the place he lived with “guys whose brains had been fried on medication,” he stated, plus “one violent lunatic” who threatened him.

Atkin then was moved to a “therapy condo” which he shared with a bipolar younger man. By then, the pandemic had began and the younger man and his household refused to take COVID security measures, like masking. Atkin left on Christmas Day of 2020. He stayed a few months in a member of the family’s small condo in Kingston, nevertheless it was a brief answer. He noticed just one possibility.

“Folks assume that homeless folks would moderately be homeless,” Atkin stated. “They’re not likely giving it full thought. They’re simply a cardboard cutout. What I did had lots of logic to it.”

When Mike Atkin was unhoused, this was his homemade home on wheels in a Kingston parking lot.

When Mike Atkin was unhoused, this was his home made dwelling on wheels in a Kingston car parking zone.

Mike Atkin

In his itinerant months, Atkin had turned that logic over in his thoughts, deciding to assemble a conveyable camp on wheels, funded from the $1,107 month-to-month incapacity checks he had begun to obtain. He was assured in his potential to outlive outdoor as a result of his coaching at an outdoor camp as a teen the place “they drilled us like child Navy SEALs.” 

He picked up his transportable camp from a storage unit and hit the homeless byways of Kingston. Within the spring of 2021, randomly passing by RUPCO’s workplace uptown, he noticed a poster encouraging folks to use for Landmark Place. So he did.

‘We’re all imagined to be on this world collectively as a neighborhood’

After being delayed by the pandemic, the renovated Alms Home opened as Landmark Place in November 2021. The gleaming and gracious constructing rapidly crammed with 34 residents, 29 from Kingston. Lots of them — like Mike Atkin — had been unhoused. Even Paul Casciaro needed to admit: “The constructing does look lovely.”

That appears to be all Casciaro likes in regards to the venture. “I’d most likely by no means see it as a plus,” he stated. He reported being “vilified” and receiving a demise menace for his opposition to Landmark Place.

O’Connor known as the demise menace “completely terrible,” and struck twin notes of forgiveness and combativeness when pondering again on the opposition. “Their situation is commonplace: it’s concern of the unknown when somebody says they’re going to convey homeless of us to the neighborhood. I perceive it’s difficult, and I gained’t negate the sentiments of those that are fearful. However in terms of this, we’re compelled to maneuver ahead.”

The residents at Landmark Place are folks whose lives have been suffering from one onerous knock after one other. They misplaced jobs and housing, obtained caught in custody battles, had been endangered by violent companions, and had their shallowness broken.

“We’re similar to you,” stated Michelle Nixon, “besides our life went whoops! We swerved.”

Most residents reside with ache, affected by a number of disabilities. Nixon’s knees are shot and he or she has fibromyalgia. Jon Towers had a life-threatening motorbike accident in 1985. “That’s when my life took a left flip,” he stated.

Rising up, Bonny Harris remembers coming to the Kingston Alms Home when it was the county infirmary to get her childhood photographs. As a baby, she suffered years of sexual abuse from her stepfather, whereas her mom didn’t intervene. When she wished to go to school after highschool, her mom refused to fill out the mortgage kinds.

“She didn’t need me to do something to raised myself. She even instructed me, ‘You had been a mistake. It is best to by no means have been born,’” Harris remembered.

Harries didn’t have a lot luck in relationships, both. There was the alcoholic husband who beat her. The boyfriend who ran off along with her brother’s spouse. “I simply obtained in with the flawed guys,” she stated.

In 2003, catastrophe struck when a truck hit her. With a number of fractures, she was airlifted to Westchester Medical and spent six months there. She misplaced her condo and had to surrender her younger son to the ex-husband. She continues to be in bodily ache day by day from the accident. In any case her traumas, she was additionally recognized with PTSD. But earlier than the accident and after, for a few years, she labored onerous — principally as a house well being aide.

There have been vibrant spots alongside the best way. In her 20s, Harris reconnected along with her organic father and stays near him and his spouse. She sees her son, who’s now 29 and lives in New Paltz.

And in a lucky twist, her ex-husband “turned his life round” and have become a counselor. He got here to her rescue within the nick of time. A few years in the past, Harris had been unhoused for over a 12 months, sofa browsing with buddies. Her ex guided her: first, to Kingston’s Darmstadt shelter, then to an condo by means of Household of Woodstock, and eventually to the RUPCO lottery the place her title was drawn for Landmark Place. On arrival final November, she skilled “tearful pleasure.”

Harris talks of hard-won life classes. “You possibly can come from the streets, or from up excessive.  You could possibly get knocked down actual fast and find yourself like this. We’re all imagined to be on this world collectively as a neighborhood. All of us are human beings. Simply deal with us proper.” 

Simply deal with folks proper

That would function a motto for 2 of the RUPCO professionals who work full-time at Landmark Place. Cari Marvelli, a behavioral well being specialist, grew up poor with a single mother; they had been often with out a dwelling, residing out of their automobile. Holly Gouldy Waterman, an LPN, was born and raised in Kingston, had dad and mom who “misplaced a million-dollar enterprise,” and raised two children by herself. Each have recognized onerous instances and have the toughness and empathy of people that’ve confronted down difficulties in life.

They do case administration: making certain residents get the care they want, scheduling physician visits, offering schooling and even a shoulder to cry on or snigger with. Their salaries are lined by a New York state grant. But clearly, for each that is greater than a job. It’s a calling.

“I really like the inhabitants which might be the forgotten, the underdogs,” Waterman stated. “I need them to know, guess what, you matter. Simply since you’re in a nasty scenario doesn’t imply you have to be spat upon or seemed down on.”

“Mr. Rogers stated, ‘Search for the helpers,’ and I’ve at all times thought-about myself a helper,” Marvelli stated. “Our most important aim is to maintain them housed. No matter obtained in the best way earlier than, whether or not it was well being points, accidents, shedding every part in a fireplace … I see our job as ensuring they will keep right here.”

Landmark East’s official opening was Sept. 20, 2022. Most of the 32 one-bedroom apartments are already occupied.

Landmark East’s official opening was Sept. 20, 2022. A lot of the 32 one-bedroom flats are already occupied.

David Miller / RUPCO

When the topic of neighborhood opposition comes up, Waterman stated: “What we’re doing helps get folks off the streets. Isn’t that higher than conserving them on the streets?” She added: “These are good folks, however you must give them an opportunity.”

Marvelli reacted with a considerably bitter edge. “Some appear to assume this place is horrible for no different purpose than they’ve obtained a nasty feeling towards folks they don’t even know. The folks listed below are anyone’s mom or father, brother or son. It’s simply loopy to me that on the finish of the day, they’re solely anxious about their property values.”

Casciaro stated he needs Landmark Place to succeed, although for him the jury continues to be out.  “Look, we’re hoping for one of the best. It’s simply that we don’t need something unhealthy to occur in our neighborhood.”

In keeping with Landmark Place workers, there haven’t been any police-involved incidents for the reason that November opening. The Kingston Police Division didn’t reply to an inquiry.

‘All those that cared for me once they didn’t even know my title’

The day Atkin arrived, he cried tears of aid, after which slept for 10 hours. On waking, he discovered three handmade soaps Marvelli had put in his room. He took a bathe, his first in a very long time. “I felt like I used to be exfoliating the despair and privation from my pores,” he stated.

Atkin is reflective when contemplating his lengthy journey to this new dwelling. “I felt a deep sense of gratitude for the development employees and landscapers and RUPCO individuals who labored so onerous to make this occur,” he stated lately. “I take into consideration Mr. O’Connor, the polity behind the venture, and all those that have cared for me once they didn’t even know my title. There’s a Biblical side to the brotherhood and goodwill that made this place occur.”

As for what’s subsequent, after the day-to-day survival mode of being unhoused, Atkin is thrilled to even find a way to consider such issues. “Not having a imaginative and prescient of the long run, I could not conjure up an image. I used to be a photographer at one time. Now, I’d wish to develop a brand new physique of labor. My biggest ambition is to develop a sure expertise that I’ve.”

His different nice ambition is to spend extra time along with his son, Sam. “That’s the opposite factor having a house once more means. It’s serving to me come again to my household.”

On Sept. 20 within the vibrant morning solar, Atkin stood on the podium and concluded: “Let me simply say to the neighborhood of people that made Landmark doable. From the underside of my coronary heart, thanks for constructing us a house.” The group gave him a standing ovation. 

As of this writing, 198 seniors are on RUPCO’s ready record for Landmark Place.

Mike Atkin, a resident at Landmark Place, gave opening remarks at the ribbon-cutting of phase two on Sept. 20, 2022.

Mike Atkin, a resident at Landmark Place, gave opening remarks on the ribbon-cutting of part two on Sept. 20, 2022.

Michael Solow

Michael Solow is a author residing in Kingston. His writing has appeared in The River Newsroom, The New York Occasions, The Morning Information and The Hemingway Evaluate, amongst different publications.

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