By Kevin O'Connor, CEO, Rural Ulster Preservation Company
Last week, RUPCO celebrated the long anticipated opening of Woodstock Commons. We marked the occasion with a ribbon cutting ceremony and invited the public to an open campus on Friday, May 3.
Remarkably, it was exactly 10 years ago, in May of 2003, when the phone rang. It was Bob Young, then chair of the Town of Woodstock's Affordable Housing Committee calling to ask if RUPCO would please come to Woodstock to build some affordable housing. After all, Bob said "We've had an affordable housing committee in this town for the better part of three decades and we can't get any affordable housing built."
Believing that home matters, we said yes. And we were pleased to have the early support of NeighborWorks America, which provided important pre-development financing to really get the project moving.
Today, Woodstock Commons shines as an intergenerational campus of 53 homes for seniors, working families, and artists clustered on seven acres of a 28-acre site nestled behind the Bradley Meadows Shopping Center. The 1-, 2- and 3- bedroom homes are energy efficient employing a ground-based, geo thermal system to provide central air heating and cooling. The homes are connected to the municipal water and sewer systems and feature walking trails that link, for the first time, the established neighborhoods of Playhouse and Elwyn Quarry Lanes. The buildings' handsome and unique design features vaulted ceilings, metal roofs, fiber cement siding, bamboo flooring and ample windows. Senior residents enjoy three separate community rooms while a large community building centers the campus as a gathering place for all residents. Each apartment is visitable by offering a grade level entrance and first floor, wheelchair accessible bathroom. The site is expected to earn two Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications from the US Green Building Council: one for New Construction and the other for Neighborhood Development.
For each of us, home is at the center of our everyday life; it's where each day starts and ends. Home is where we play, where we rest and are nourished. It's where we teach our children and gather with friends and family. It's where we are inspired and where our dreams take root. We know from experience and research that stable homes lead to healthier lifestyles, more individual success, higher student achievement and safer communities.
To be sure, the homes at Woodstock Commons matter greatly for the first group of residents lucky enough to be chosen in the lottery. They are now living in affordable, healthy, energy efficient homes near the hamlet, enabling them to achieve greater well-being. With truly affordable rent & utilities, residents will have more disposable income for the other necessities of life. Children have others to play with and they can be proud of where they live. Seniors can visit easily with their friends and a walk in the woods lies just outside everyone's front door!
Ask Mercedes, a wonderful artist and longtime Woodstock resident, whose last apartment was mold infested and causing her to be ill, how much her new healthy home at Woodstock Commons matters. Ask Mandara, a senior artist originally from Mexico who works at the Woodstock School of Art if her new home matters. Mandara had been renting a tiny studio apartment and paying more than half of her income in housing costs. Today she has a beautiful sunny, one bedroom apartment and pays 30% of income for rent. Or ask David, a part-time Town of Woodstock employee whose partner Christina is eight months pregnant if these homes matter. Prior to moving to Woodstock Commons, they were renting another apartment in Woodstock that didn't have a functioning bathroom!
Woodstock Commons matters not just today but for decades to come, as these homes will continue to provide affordable and stable rental housing for hundreds of individuals and families from Woodstock and the region.
Woodstock Commons matters to Woodstock.
From now on, the Colony of the Arts can boast that it has affordable housing for town employees, other working families, seniors and artists! And not just run of the mill housing, but the best kind of affordable housing - the kind that doesn't look like affordable housing! Don't take my word for it. A couple of weeks ago, a vendor came to the site for the first time. He followed directions to the site but when he drove in, he thought to himself, "This can't be the affordable housing in Woodstock, It looks like high end housing." So he got back into his truck and drove back out to the entrance to check the sign, to see if he was in the right place. And of course, he was. When he told me this story, it really made my day!
While the process to get here was certainly long and arduous, in the end, these homes matter because of the lessons they have taught. They demonstrate that communities can indeed build quality affordable housing. They show that a thorough review process does lead to a better outcome but they are also testament that local review processes can and must become more efficient, less redundant, less costly and take less time while still achieving community goals.
It's an understatement to say that the homes at Woodstock Commons would not be possible without an incredible array of board members, staff, professional consultants, colleagues, elected & appointed officials, funders, lenders, supporters and residents (for and against) who played a role or otherwise engaged in a difficult process that produced the outstanding results you see today. The list of people and organizations to which RUPCO is indebted is long indeed and I hope to be able to express my overwhelming feeling of gratitude to many this week.
Home is something special & personal to each of us. Of course, it's many things. Here's one thing that home will always be to me: Home is where - as a young boy - my mother told me that I could be whatever I wanted to be. Think of everything home means to you and I hope you agree, home really matters.