Change doesn’t fall into place without a catalyst, and for Oneonta Mayor Mark Drnek’s vision to bring 1,000 new residents to the city during his first term to work, he says he knows he needs to work with the community’s experts to solve the problem of where all those incoming residents will live.
At the June 6 meeting of the Oneonta City Council, Mayor Drnek answered questions about his plan to ‘reboot’ the city’s Housing Commission through a collaborative ad-hoc committees charged to tackle a series of issues fundamental to expanding Oneonta’s available housing stock and prepare it for a future that could include not only hundreds of new, well-paying jobs, but also a changing marketplace for student housing.
“I’ll say it again to the people of Oneonta,” Mayor Drnek said in a conversation with The Freeman’s Journal / Hometown Oneonta. “We need you.”
The collaborative outreach has marked the first six months of the mayor’s term, and for the housing reboot, he said he’ll be looking for “40 to 50 people minimum” to comprise up to seven separate working groups, each with its own charge and each reporting to members of a Housing Commission – the makeup of which remains to be determined. The mayor said he wants to hear from “the people who have not raised their voices in the past in public but have good ideas,” and he’ll put would-be ad-hoc committee members through a vetting process seeking expertise based on personal experience, but rooted in what he called “respect, respect, respect.”
“There won’t be room for political agendas,” he said. “We can’t have a community and solve community problems until we come together and have those respectful discussions.”
Under his plan, the city’s rebooted Housing Commission would develop housing strategies that consider affordability, market rates, townhouses and condos, housing for seniors, housing for refugees, and other priorities. Commission members would “engage, support, and provide focus for the work of the ad-hoc committees” and receive regular reports from those groups.
His blueprint has each ad-hoc committee assigned to an individual Housing Commission member, who, with the committee, will review, discuss, modify and generate actionable items for the City Council or Committees. The ad-hoc committees will combine with the Commission to address the challenges facing the City of Oneonta, among themn:
- Student housing, with over-saturation and maintenance concerns in a declining market
- Upper-floor utilization, particularly on Oneonta’s Main Street and the disinclination of landlords to maximize potential use of the space
- Identify and catalog developable land
- Housing stock’s increasing attractiveness to entrepreneurs, such as baseball camps and Air B&Bs
- Elder housing and support
- Refugee resettlement
Mayor Drnek also pointed to what he called “Neighborhood Enhancement,” taking a survey of housing conditions and identifying strategies to address situations in which housing might be deteriorating. He pointed to a program in nearby Fulton, New York – “Fulton Block Builders” supported in part by grants from the Richard S. Shineman Foundation – whereby “neighbors reshape Fulton one block at a time.”
“Take a look at what they’re doing in Fulton,” Mayor Drnek said. “The streets are beautiful because every home and property owner is looking out for one another to make their blocks look as good as they can make them. It’s a great example of what I’m talking about with Oneonta – we need some transformative ideas that get people excited to bring our city to life.”
“My whole goal here is to keep people invested in what I know is a place that will grow,” Mayor Drnek said. “Collaboration within the ad hoc committees and with the new Housing Commission will work when we get our groups together. I’m excited about this.”