Reviving America’s Workforce Housing: Spotlight on the Hudson Valley

Aker Cos. Principals Will Brocker and Mike Amato detail the company’s plans to revitalize the workforce housing market in the region.

Principals Mike Amato and William Brocker speak to a tenant of Lakeshore Villas. Image courtesy of Dion Ogust

Thanks to relocating businesses and a strengthening employment base coupled with people’s renewed interest in living closer to the outdoors, the Hudson Valley’s housing market is experiencing a strong rebound. However, this growing interest has also highlighted the region’s lack of quality affordable and workforce housing, according to Will Brocker, principal at Aker Cos.

Aker Cos. is set to revitalize the region’s workforce housing supply by recognizing the Hudson Valley’s housing shortage. The company recently purchased four vintage properties and invested $13 million into renovating the buildings, keeping in mind the needs of low- and moderate-income renters. In the interview below, Brocker, together with Principal Mike Amato, dives into the company’s plans for the Hudson Valley’s workforce market.

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What can you tell us about the current dynamics of the Hudson Valley’s multifamily market?

Brocker: There is strong demand for housing in the Hudson Valley driven by people’s desire to explore the outdoors while enjoying the conveniences of city living. Companies moving their headquarters/offices to cities like Poughkeepsie and Kingston, N.Y., can offer employees historic charm and incredible access to some of the best outdoor amenities on the east coast.

Heavy opposition to new development combined with increasing costs to build new has caused the supply of multifamily housing to remain stagnant for many years. Most of the multifamily supply was built in the ’70s and ’80s and has become dated for today’s workforce. This has accelerated the homebuying market and created an opportunity to update neglected multifamily housing.

Lakeshore Villas. Image courtesy of Aker Cos.

The pandemic prompted residents to leave major coastal metros and consider smaller cities. How did this trend impact the housing market in the Hudson Valley?

Amato: As a result of the pandemic, the home-buying market in the Hudson Valley is experiencing incredible appreciation. This is causing many long-term owners to sell and rent. Separately, many businesses are expanding to or growing in the Hudson Valley, causing a growing workforce. Both factors combined with a general heightened interest in living closer to the outdoors is causing a strong rebound in the region.

One of the biggest challenges in the multifamily sector has been the rising need for low- and moderate-income housing. How has the pandemic impacted this need in the Hudson Valley region?

Brocker: The influx of higher earners buying homes is delivering more earning power for local businesses. This coupled with remote work and the growing number of businesses being attracted to the Hudson Valley further strengthens the employment base.

There is a shortage of low-income housing across the state, but today there is also a serious shortage of quality workforce housing. The pandemic has put a spotlight on this, as people who are moving to cities like Poughkeepsie and Kingston for work are realizing quickly that there are very few quality housing options unless you can afford to buy a home.

What are some of the challenges when it comes to developing and investing in workforce housing?

Amato: There is a shortage of both low-income and quality workforce housing across the Hudson Valley. Local barriers to new development and increasing demand are exacerbating the issue. 

The challenge with investing in workforce housing is that although the market is demanding updated multifamily, there is also a growing demand for low-income housing. Additional supply would alleviate the problem, but obtaining the subsidies needed to build either workforce or low-income housing is almost impossible to get.

At Aker, we have chosen to be proactive about repairing and improving the dated housing stock to serve the workforce in the Hudson Valley for the next 50 years. We are encouraged that many cities are starting to offer subsidies to incentivize new development and are recognizing that increasing the multifamily supply across the board will make multifamily housing across every income level more affordable.

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Aker has recently acquired four workforce properties in the region and you plan to invest $13 million to upgrade the buildings. What are some of the main improvements you plan to implement? How will you address the current needs of low- and moderate-income families?

Brocker: Most of the $13 million budget will be directed towards bringing neglected aspects of the property back to life. When built in the 1980s, these properties were fully loaded with amenities and were in great condition. Since then, the amenities have become nonoperational, and many building issues have lived through years of quick fixes.

Secondly, the interiors of apartments were built with the best tools and materials from the ’80s, but today there are far superior and more aesthetically pleasing alternatives.

Since closing, we have spent a lot of our time learning from community members on-site. Meeting with residents, conducting community surveys and having the ownership team on-site most days of the week has helped lead our investment.

Lakeshore Villas. Image courtesy of Aker Cos.

We are now in the process of putting the team and plans in place to rebuild and eventually reopen the clubhouses at Stony Run and Lakeshore; upgrade the landscaping across all the properties, reopen the pools, repurpose and rebuild tennis courts, improve basketball courts, add dog parks, upgrade the mailrooms and laundry, and most importantly, create community programing to rebuild the pride in these properties. It has been years since the community members have enjoyed these, and we’re very eager to bring these back.

Apartment interiors are being improved on a natural turnover with more sustainable and aesthetically pleasant options than what was delivered in the ’80s. We are also focused on bringing 70-plus previously uninhabitable apartments back online.

Since starting these improvements, we have had to create a waiting list of people interested in moving into the improved apartments. There seems to be an overwhelming sense of relief to find that quality workforce housing options do exist.

How do you plan to work towards the revitalization of workforce housing in the Hudson Valley region? What are some of the steps you are taking towards achieving this goal?

Amato: Going back 50 years, Kingston was known for its quality workforce housing options but as time has gone on, many of these buildings no longer meet the needs of today’s community members. We aim to restore these properties to accommodate today’s standard for workforce housing, ultimately supporting and enriching the community.

We are working towards that goal by focusing on a resident-first approach to management for all ages and backgrounds, and through active conversations with the city’s leaders. Our approach is to treat our community members as our No. 1 stakeholder—we report to them and let their priorities dictate ours. We are doing this through one-on-one conversations, surveys and focus groups.

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