Sometimes opposition to affordable housing comes from the most unlikely of places. Such was the case with the town of Woodstock, NY – yes, THAT Woodstock.* When an affordable housing complex was proposed there a decade ago, the arts colony’s laid-back, liberal, live-and-let-live ethos proved illusory. Opponents unceasingly questioned why a little town like Woodstock should have rentals, whether the apartments would all go to “outsiders,” and whether the loss of green space was worth it. Yes, even hippies can find reasons to hate affordable housing.
The nonprofit developer, Rural Ulster Preservation Company (RUPCO), kept at it for years, downsizing its plan to appease critics and axing a proposed community center. The resulting Woodstock Commons, now open for about a year, is hardly a blight on the community, as you can see from these photos. About a week ago I went up to visit. RUPCO was holding a community lunch featuring a young filmmaker who, much to the developer’s surprise, had produced a short documentary about a Commons’ resident known as “Jogger John.” John is a local character who jogs far and wide, often throwing in a few pirouettes along the way. He wound up in Woodstock years ago after spending time in a psychiatric hospital, and won people over with his childlike spirit and community-mindedness. (He sweeps the streets of his own accord). But John was also often homeless, making his life harder than he let on – until he landed an apartment at the Commons. In the film, incredulous at his good fortune, John says having a stable apartment has changed his life: “No more edge, got rid of the edge. Now, it’s all soft and smooth and nice.”
That’s just one story from a 52-apartment complex that looks about as intrusive as a cluster of college dormitories. In keeping with Woodstock’s “green” sensibilities, RUPCO developed the Commons to high energy-efficiency standards, including geothermal heating and cooling. No fossil fuel deliveries required! Another key feature is the development’s multi-generational reach. Of 52 apartments, 20 are reserved for senior citizens; the rest are for families (meaning: everyone else). And, in another nod to local need, artists are given preference for up to 12 units (22 live there now). Walking trails connect the development to the village.
The Commons marks the first affordable housing development built in Woodstock in 30 years. And demand certainly reflects that long lag. According to Kevin O’Connor, RUPCO’s CEO, the number of eligible applicants for the Commons was five times the number of apartments.
* The actual Woodstock Festival was of course held on a farm in Bethel, NY (about 40 miles away); the town of Woodstock turned down the organizers’ request for a permit.