Mayor Vetoes Law Leveling Fees on Owners of Hudson Vacants

Hudson Mayor RIck Rector affordable housingHudson Mayor Rick Rector vetoed a proposed law Thursday that would have imposed fees on the owners of vacant properties.

The law, which was passed by the city’s Common Council July 17, was meant to address dilapidated properties and properties that were being “warehoused” — purposefully kept unoccupied — by their owners in the city, which is facing an affordable housing crisis even as 13 percent of its properties lay vacant.

Like other Hudson Valley cities like Beacon and Kingston, Hudson has rapidly gentrified over the last couple decades, but with a population of just over 6,000, the effects have been felt more intensely, as rents have skyrocketed, and housing has become hard to find.

Rector read a statement over the phone as to why he decided to veto the law, which passed the Common Council 8-0, with two absences and one member recusing themselves.

“While I am supportive of this legislation regarding vacant buildings, there were some issues brought forth by the city code enforcement officer that can hopefully be addressed easily by the Common Council, and I anticipate this local law being re-submitted to me to in the near future. However, today, I have vetoed it.”

Rector referred further questions to Hudson Code Enforcement Officer Craig Haigh.

Haigh said he had only received the proposed law in the last few days — though it was passed by the Common Council more than two weeks ago — and upon reviewing it, saw various minor issues with the specifics of the law.

“It’s a very good law from what I was reading, but there were a few things that may be misinterpreted, or (the law) doesn’t have the right information, and a couple of things that we had questions about,” he said.

Properties on the real estate market that have not found buyers may be affected by the current wording of the law, something that needs to be cleared up, Haigh said, along with questions he had about when the fees should kick in.

Hudson Mayor RIck Rector affordable housing

The law was vetoed in part because it was unclear if the owners of properties on the real estate market would have to pay the fee.

Haigh corrected parts of the law, which now must re-start the legislative process, he said.

The law would have imposed a $500 fee for a year of vacancy, $1,000 for the second year, $2,000 for the third, and $3,000 for the fourth.

The law would have also made owners of vacant properties register them with the city and put up a $10,000 bond.

The law was based on similar legislation passed in other New York cities, such as Albany and Saratoga Springs, said John Rosenthal, Hudson’s Fourth Ward Alderman.

“The intent is to deal with people who warehouse buildings in a small community,” he said.

The issue was born out of residents’ concerns about a lack of affordable housing in the city, Rosenthal said.

Problems with affordable housing were captured in Hudson’s Strategic Housing Action Plan, which was ratified this summer after being started in 2017.

Forty-six percent of renters in Hudson pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent — the definition of a property being “unaffordable” for the renter — but 13 percent of the city’s properties are vacant, according to the plan, squeezing the market further.

Rosenthal said the proposed law was not the aggressive action some in the community wanted to address affordable housing but was “a step in the right direction.”

“It’s not really going to solve the long-term problem of development here, but it’s certainly trying to look at some of the larger players in town who warehouse, and [try] to make them see that the warehousing of property puts a strain on city resources,” he said.

It would be hard to introduce legislation addressing affordable housing without the law already existing in other cities, since property owners could challenge an untested law, and Hudson did not have the legal resources of New York City to fight them, he added.

The fees were not meant to be punitive or target any particular property owners, he said, adding Code Enforcement could work with property owners who could simply not afford to repair dilapidated structures.

When asked if the fees were hefty enough to influence property owners to more quickly put homes on the market, Rosenthal said he wasn’t sure.

“But I can certainly say that if someone can afford to pay the fee, its revenue for the city,” he said.

First Ward Alderman Rob Bujan said there are some buildings in Hudson that have been vacant since he moved here eight years ago, and that warehousing properties was not the only issue, suggesting there were multiple reasons why a property could go unoccupied.Hudson Mayor RIck Rector affordable housing

Vacant buildings can also be hazards, Bujan said, recalling the time some people broke into a vacant building near his house on Allen Street and started a fire that eventually destroyed the building and damaged an adjacent home.

Bujan doubled the fees in the legislation before it was passed by the Common Council on its way to being vetoed by the mayor.

The increases were meant to “put a little meat” into the legislation to “maybe incentivize people to finish their projects to get them on the market sooner.”

When asked how effective the legislation would be in getting more houses on the market, Bujan said he doubted it would.

“It’s not really pushing [houses onto the market] as much as it is just making folks who have vacant buildings be a little more fiscally responsible to the city,” he said.

Fourth Ward Alderman Rich Volo said the law was “not a panacea,” but just one of the goals of the Strategic Action Housing Plan.

The law was also meant to make up for property tax revenue lost if the properties depreciated in value due to dilapidation, Volo said, though Rosenthal said this was not the case with all vacant properties, since the housing market in Hudson was so robust even vacant properties could increase in value.

The veto came a day after a 3 p.m. public comments session on the proposed law at City Hall.

Though several Common Council members attended, no one spoke, and Mayor Rector closed the session.

Rector had personally heard from a small number of people about the law prior to the public comment session, but they had not made him decide in either direction, he said.

 

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