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Dear Pine Plains 6.11.2021

6.11.2021

Dear Pine Plains,

This week I “graduated” from the Pattern for Progress Class on Institutional Racism and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. The class met by Zoom every 2 weeks for as long as 2 hours to discuss and examine the history of institutional racism in the Mid-Hudson Valley, and how we might begin to turn it around. We heard from a number of great speakers including Jeremy Travis and Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law, a must-read book for anyone interested in how the government essentially created and re-enforced segregation in every part of this country. Rothstein was the guest speaker at the graduation, and he stressed a few very salient points about recent history as to why the country based on equality remains divided: when the New Deal was created, benefits did not extend to black people. When WWII was over, and the GI Bill created which granted low-percentage mortgages to veterans, black veterans were excluded. “Affordable” Housing Developments were built, and they had covenants preventing sale to black potential owners. The federal government backed up all of these policies and rulings. Without the ability to build equity via owning a home which increases in value—redlining prevented that as well by creating neighborhoods in which no bank would invest—segregated neighborhoods took hold from which few could escape.

Interestingly, this week a real estate agent posted an ad for a high-end cottage priced out of the reach of many people in Pine Plains. The outcry was audible. The blame is put on newcomers and the well-to-do creating a market that excludes most working people. Yet there was also a bitter discussion on the same platform about censorship vs. bullying. There has been ongoing discussion of people’s rights to do what they want on their own property. And finally, a comment around not wanting “affordable” housing here in Pine Plains, implying who that might bring in here. Board member Sarah Jones and I have been working on what we now call Workforce Housing every year I have been in office here, trying to find a way to create new housing for people to be able to rent or own who can’t afford the rising real estate prices here. This scenario is being played out everywhere in the Hudson Valley. We formed a Housing Committee which is actively researching this, and we helped form the Tri-Town Coalition between Millerton, Amenia and Pine Plains and Hudson River Housing to address the situation. Affordable housing was on the minds of our town government way back when the Durst Organization first proposed a development, and it was worked into the proposal back in the mid-2000s that they help us build homes for working people here to live in. So far, the best we’ve been able to achieve is the proposed amendment to our zoning as regards auxiliary dwelling units, or ADUs. Soon, a property owner will be able to live in either their original main home OR the auxiliary dwelling they build on their property. This can be an apartment over a garage, a cottage in back, etc. Hopefully, this will do two things: open up the possibility of building new rentals in town; and keep seniors on their properties by allowing them to live in the smaller units and rent out their original homes to new families. This seems to me to be key for Pine Plains.

Also key: a central wastewater system. Without one, new businesses struggle to open if they even can. Costly expansions to septic systems can be unattainable due not only to a lack of money a new owner might have, but also of the required space specified by the Department of Health, which now demands a 100% ability to expand any system in place. This law was written for cities; it in no way favors or helps small towns here in Dutchess County that have no infrastructure. In fact, it threatens the future of every small town here. (Below: one unit of the system, the type we are proposing; there would be around 6 of these plus a tiny barn to house computers).

And bringing this around to housing again, no developer will buy any land in the hamlet if we do not have infrastructure in the form of a wastewater system to tie into. So the idea of Workforce Housing depends completely on our building some kind of system which all the businesses in Pine Plains can tie into as well as anyone who would build here on the few available parcels (the Catholic Church land in particular—21 acres). We have been told repeatedly by some very reputable builders—Ken Kearney, Hudson River Housing, RUPCO–that if we had such infrastructure, they would be interested in building here. Sorely needed is affordable senior living as well as starter homes. Rentals in particular. Our schools have capacity for at least 600 more students. And we are not alone: Millerton and Amenia are both working on sewer feasibility studies and designs in order to achieve the same sort of security for the future. Because ultimately, that’s what economic development truly is: the ability to welcome small businesses owned by regular people easily opened in a hamlet.

What if the reason employers are having such a tough time getting people to work for them is not that they’re all sitting at home on unemployment–it’s that they’ve left because they can’t afford to live here anymore?

To quote a playwright whose work I know, “the cavalry isn’t comingwe are the cavalry!” Please, if you’d like to participate in thinking/doing about housing, join our Housing Committee! If Pine Plains is to survive the coming years with a diverse community of people who can afford to live and work here at the same time, then we must save ourselves. The cavalry isn’t coming to do it for us.

Saddle up, Pine Plains!
Darrah Cloud