Please accept this letter in response to the “Community Downzoning in Clarkstown” opinion article published in the Patch on September 25, 2012. Mr. Grandel’s description of the Clarkstown Senior Accessory Housing Law has several inaccuracies which I would like to clarify for your readers.
It should be noted that accessory housing is not a new concept. The proposed law is based on a similar law enacted in Orangetown, which has been in effect for 30 years. The purpose of the proposed law, first and foremost, is to provide seniors the ability to stay in their own homes.
In the surveys conducted as a part of the 2002 Housing Study and 2009 Comprehensive Plan seniors overwhelmingly preferred aging in their own home. Accessory housing was identified as a way to facilitate this for some seniors. Accessory apartments provide seniors with supplemental income, as well as possible assistance with property maintenance and the sense of security that comes from having others living nearby.
The proposed Senior Accessory Housing Law does not “make seniors spend tens of thousands of dollars to convert their homes … putting seniors at the mercy of living with tenants.” This program is entirely voluntary. It simply provides an option that a senior may or may not wish to pursue.
The 2002 Housing Study and 2009 Comprehensive Plan also recognized that housing within the Town is unaffordable for young adults who are typically just starting in the workforce. Of particular concern are young emergency service volunteers, who after receiving their training and devoting a few years with their company or corps, are opting to move out of the Town because of the high cost of living.
To address this problem, the Town has established a program via the Town’s Senior Citizen Coordinator to match seniors interested in renting to emergency service volunteers. The proposed law and accompanying program are completely voluntary on the part of the seniors and volunteers, but provides options to both parties.
The Senior Accessory Housing Law and any apartments created as a result of the law are not affiliated with any Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program. Accessory apartments, by their nature, are generally affordable as compared to other housing options available in the Town. A review of available apartments located in two-family residences in the Town revealed that rents are typically in the range of $800 to $1,200. Therefore there was no need to strictly regulate rents to ensure that they be affordable. The law leaves the rents completely within the discretion of the homeowner.
The proposed law is not downzoning. Accessory apartments must be subordinate to the one-family use and must not have separate metering. The residence must continue to appear to be a single-family dwelling.
The accessory apartment must be located wholly within the principal building and be a minimum of 400 square feet and a maximum of 800 square feet and not exceed 1 bedroom. The local law limits the number of occupants to 2. The homeowner would have to be an individual or a couple, one of which is at least 60 years old and have owned and occupied a home in Clarkstown for at least 20 years.
The law also limits the number of apartments town-wide to 200, approximately the number of units that have been developed in Orangetown in the past 30 years. It was considered prudent to start with a limited number of apartments to gauge the interest of the qualifying seniors
The Town has presented this draft law at several Town Board workshops and held public hearings at the Town Board meetings of July 24, 2012 and August 21, 2012. In addition, a special public informational session was held on September 10, 2012 with a group of concerned residents, Mr. Grandel among them, during which all of the preceding information was presented. I hope this helps your readers to better understand the proposed Senior Accessory Housing Law which will again be considered by the Town Board at their meeting of October 2.
Clarkstown Town Planner