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Report critical of Schuyler housing

SCHUYLER COUNTY—Houses that are too old, lax building codes and absentee landlords are the main housing concerns for Schuyler County, according to a New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) study recently released.
The DHCR is releasing their housing needs studies for all areas of the state. This was the first time they have done such a study and included local officials, advocates, housing developers and social service providers. The participants also said that in the Southern Tier region, residents will accept substandard living situations, such as inefficient heating systems, leaking roofs and failing septic systems because they do not have alternative housing options.
“It’s a huge, longstanding problem,” said Danielle Hautaniemi, from Schuyler County Cornell Cooperative Extension and a participant in the study.
Julie Chevalier, with Community Progress Inc. and another participant, said they see many in the Baby Boomer generation now as seniors on a fixed income. Many times they have to choose between spending money on home repairs or health needs. Chevalier said they pick paying for medicine and hospital bills. Community Progress provides homeowners with critical housing assistance. Chevalier said she has seen older homeowners throughout the Southern Tier living in bad conditions because they could not afford to fix their houses.
Community Progress also encounters municipalities unable to provide funds to enforce building code regulations.  Chevalier said if people cannot do anything about their code violations, the area becomes blighted. Run down areas such as this become areas with more crime. She added homeowners in general accept these conditions because they must.
“They put their heart and soul into their home. They don’t want to move into an apartment,” she said. “It’s the American dream, home ownership.”
Hautaniemi said high property taxes “bleed homeowner’s ability to invest in their property.” She added people in the area historically have low incomes which is part of the problem.
However, Chevalier said one economic boost the area has is the Main Street Grant. She explained that the work it helped fund in Watkins Glen has generated sales tax revenue and increased the number of local jobs during construction. Chevalier said she expected the same to happen in Montour Falls, especially situated around the Montour House.
One of the needs the DHCR study listed was more single family or duplex units. However, a problem developers encounter is meeting the State Historic Preservation Office’s energy efficiency standards when working on adaptive reuse projects.
The CCE of Schuyler County is also finishing up their own housing needs assessment. Hautaniemi said it would be done in April.

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