Oneonta’s Housing Problem Sparks Debate in Council Committee Meeting

Is Additional Affordable

Housing Needed In City?

Council Committee Asks

By JENNIFER HILL • Special to

Melissa Nicosia, left, who chairs Common Council’s Community Development Committee, and Council member Michelle Frazier question an OFO proposal for affordable housing. ( photo)

ONEONTA –  A $10,000 Opportunities for Otsego proposal to determine the need for low- and moderate-income housing in the city and how to fill it met skepticism from a Common Council committee last night.

Still, the Community Development Committee forwarded the proposal for discussion by the full Common Council, which next meets at 7 p.m. this coming Tuesday.

OFO Housing Director Audrey Benkenstein said her organization is seeking $5,000 from the city to match the $5,000 OFO would provide.  The idea is to underwrite “a process done by a facilitator” who would examine housing information and analysis done an Otsego County housing study just on Oneonta.

OFO would “then figure out what our opportunities are just with that information,” Benkenstein said.

CDC Chair Melissa Nicosia questioned whether OFO’s plan is necessary, especially for first-time home buyers.  “We have a very robust first-home-buyer program and seems to be working pretty well” she said.

Oneonta’s Director of Community Development Judy Pangman said that OFO’s proposal will benefit the city because it will offer a strategy in targeting the fixing the housing problem.  “Right now it’s kind of haphazard,” she said.

CDC Member Michele Frazier criticized OFO’s plan did not include bankers or real-estate professionals.  “It concerns me that the group is OFO and the city, with nobody who actually has their hand in the game.  People who are answering phone calls with first time home buyers”

She also questioned OFO’s plan to hire a facilitator from Ithaca and said a local professional could facilitate the process without it costing $10,000.  “I think the real estate board can offer helpful information,” Frazier, who works a real estate agent, said.

Frazier also said the number of houses “of all price brackets” listed for sale in Oneonta is down 21 percent from a year ago.

Nicosia said she would send OFO’s plan to the Council, but felt it was “another study” when the city and county had already done studies of the housing problem.

In response to a question about Oneonta’s low-income housing programs by a Delaware County man, Mike Connors, who attended the CDC meeting, Mayor Gary Herzig said the city had grants to help first-time buyers buy a home, grants that allowed people with low-incomes to stay in their homes and be brought up to code, and that 60 units of housing for low-income people had been built.

But the mayor was blunt about the city’s affordable housing supply.  “We’re nowhere near having enough,” he said.

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