Could Rent Stabilization Come to Hudson?

State Street in Hudson

Last week, Hudson’s Common Council narrowly voted in favor of a resolution endorsing five state measures aimed at extending rent stabilization to Upstate New York.

The non-binding resolution was meant to symbolically support the measures and to start a conversation about rent stabilization to address the city’s lack of affordable housing.

The average rent in Hudson in 2000 was $390, according to the census. There are no good figures for today’s average rent, though an analysis of census estimates, a 2017 housing assessment prepared for Columbia County, the rental data site Rent Jungle, and various residential leasing sites suggest it is north of $1250.

Two-thirds of Hudson properties are rentals, according to the housing assessment.

The resolution was introduced in the Common Council after being developed by the Housing and Transportation Committee, chaired by Alderwoman Tiffany Garriga. A debate followed, with Alderman Rob Bujan, who is running for Common Council president, arguing the council needed more time to review the issue. Aldermen John Rosenthal and Kamal Johnson argued the resolution was non-binding, with Johnson saying it was meant to “start a conversation.”

Bujan introduced a motion to delay the vote so it could be further discussed, which was seconded by Alderwoman Eileen Halloran. The council voted on the motion, which was defeated when Common Council President Tom DePietro voted against the delay to break a tie. The council then voted to approve the resolution, with DePietro again casting the tie-breaking vote.

Later that week, DePietro said he voted for the resolution because it gave more power to localities.

“Whether…rent stabilization will actually come to Hudson, the basic resolution provides for a locality, a municipality, to decide for themselves, and, no matter what the issue is, pretty much, I always favorite the localist solution,” he said.

The Cures to Hudson’s Ills?

The first bill the resolution endorses would give upstate municipalities the ability to declare a “housing emergency,” which would set in motion the establishment of a county housing board to regulate rents in that community.

The Emergency Tenants Protection Act (ETPA) was established in 1974 and applies to New York City and three counties around it — Westchester, Nassau and Rockland. It expires this year, and the Common Council’s resolution seeks to extend the ETPA to all of New York when it is renewed.

The second measure the resolution endorses is the “Good Cause Eviction Bill,” which, unlike the ETPA expansion, would automatically apply to all municipalities in the state.

The bill would force landlords renting buildings they do not also occupy to automatically renew leases for tenants in good standing, arguing the end of a lease does not constitute grounds for ending a tenant’s residency. Landlords would have to go to court to stop a lease renewal.

It would also stop “unconscionable rent increases,” defined in the bill as rent increases more than one-and-a-half times the area’s annual percentage change in the Consumer Price Index.

The next three bills in the resolution alter existing rent stabilization laws, such as the ETPA, that do not yet apply to upstate.

The first would remove limitations on regulating high-priced rentals. Rentals currently fall out of rent regulation laws downstate if the rent increases above $2,700 due to capital improvements to the building. This would disincentivize landlords from pursuing unnecessary improvements or inflating the costs of these improvements to raise rents above the threshold and be removed from regulations, according to the bill.

Another bill in the resolution would limit increases in rents below the maximum allowable amount, and the last would get rid of a “vacancy bonus” — the ability of a landlord to raise a rent 20 percent if the rental goes vacant after a tenant moves out. The vacancy bonus was originally written into the ETPA to account for hardships by landlords.

The different bills have received various degrees of support in the state Legislature, but most support comes from downstate, thought the Hudson-area Assemblywoman, Didi Barrett, is co-sponsoring the Good Cause Eviction Bill.

Would the Bills Work for Hudson?

Hudson has a rent problem, DePietro said.

“I know many people, young people, who have moved to Catskill to save 100 or 200 dollars a month on rent and of course — now with the evaluation, a lot of landlords could use that as an excuse to raise rents even more,” he said.

Columbia Street, Hudson

Hudson is undergoing a property value evaluation, with some property values going up more than 300 percent since the last evaluation early this decade.

However, an ETPA expansion would not do much for Hudson, at least without major revisions.

The ETPA only applies to properties built after 1974, when the bill was first passed. Hudson’s housing stock ranges from old to antique, with more than 76 percent of housing constructed before the ETPA’s cut-off, according to the housing needs assessment.

However, there are other criteria in the ETPA that would strike most of these properties from its protections, or not allow this type of rent stabilization at all.

As currently written, a housing crisis could only be declared under the ETPA if a municipality had less than 5 percent of its residences vacant. More than 16 percent of Hudson’s residences were vacant as of 2017, according to the housing assessment.

The ETPA only applies to non-owner occupied housing containing more than five units. Only one-third of rentals in Hudson are in structures with more than five units, and 198 of these units are public housing, according to the housing assessment, which the ETPA does not apply to.

Properties operated “exclusively for charitable purposes on a non-profit basis” would also be exempt, possibly making properties owned by the Galvan Foundation, a Hudson non-profit that owns dozens of commercial and residential properties in the city, free from the ETPA.

The Good Cause Eviction Bill does not have these same limitations and might more directly apply to Hudson.

Rebecca Garrard, the statewide housing coordinator for Citizen Action of New York, a progressive advocacy group, advised the Common Council’s Housing and Transportation Committee on their resolution.

The Good Cause Eviction Bill, one of a suite of ten bills supported by Housing Justice for All, a coalition including Citizen Action, would address rental markets affected by gentrification, Garrard said.

“Entire communities are being displaced because they literally cannot afford to stay in areas where generationally, their families have lived forever,” she said.

The Good Cause Eviction Bill would stop “predatory increases,” Garrard said.

“We’re talking about 100 percent, 200 percent, 400 percent — because of gentrification, and development in areas that are simply pricing entire communities out of the neighborhood,” she said.

The bill would also do away with month-to-month leases, Garrard said, which can be used by landlords to kick out tenants by simply refusing to renew their lease, thereby bypassing the eviction process.

Under the bill, rents would start at their current level, then be tied to increases in the regional consumer price index, which tracks the costs of everyday items such as groceries and energy bills.

For instance, in the urban Northeast, the consumer price index has risen an average of about 2 percent a year since 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Under the bill, rents could only increase one-and-a-half times this — three percent a year.

Hudson’s reassessments could increase the local consumer price index, and increase rents under the bill, Garrard said.

Does Hudson Need a Cure?

Howard Husock, the vice president for research and publications at the Manhattan Institute and the author of “The Trillion-Dollar Housing Mistake: The Failure of American Housing Policy,” questions whether rents should be stabilized at all.

“[Hudson Valley cities] were very depressed communities for a very long time, so the fact that there’s a revival of demand, new construction, an increase in the tax base — these are positive things,” he said.

Husock

Husock, who covered Kingston for the Times-Herald Record in the 1970s, said “gentrification, so-called” leads to an increase in the tax base and therefore city services, and argued far less people are displaced from new investment than is inferred.

“The point is, New York state north of Westchester County has been in terrible condition for a really long time, so the fact that the Hudson Valley is being drawn into the downstate revival really has to be viewed as a positive,” he said.

It was important not to disincentivize new housing construction through these regulations, he said, adding rent stabilization would “inevitably” squeeze Hudson’s already limited rental options.

The city instead should be trying to attract new rental construction and design its zoning to allow more properties to be built, Husock said.

Hudson is beginning to look at its zoning laws, which were created in the 1960s and favor less dense, suburban-style development.

Rental turnover is a good thing, Husock said.

“Turnover is the mark of a healthy city,” he said. “Older people say, ‘you know what, I need to downsize, I need to make choices,’ young people move in — young people are the future of the community. So, if you try to take a snapshot of a place and say, ‘this is how it should stay,’ you’re actually wanting to kill that place.”

Hudson Alderman Rosenthal, a member of the committee that developed the resolution and one of the votes leading to its passage, said the city needed “a big toolbox” to address rising rents.

The “perceived boom” in Hudson, fueled by media attention, has over-inflated the real estate market, he said,

“The sole focus on tourism by a segment of people involved in politics and government here as a way forward is equally problematic” as the media attention, he said, and the two “sort of feed off each other in terms of driving this sort of crisis in this community.”

“It becomes a totally hot real estate market here, and people pay exceedingly high prices for buildings that are of poor quality,” he added, leading to higher property assessment for longer-term residents.

The influx of tourism in Hudson was admittedly an economic driver, Rosenthal said, “but the problem is, it’s a very fickle one, because it’s trend-based.”

A lack of good economic planning led to a dependence on tourism dollars, and Hudson’s economy needed to diversify, he added.

But the greater problem with a tourism-based economy was existential, Rosenthal said, talking of the “surface vibrancy” of Warren Street on weekends as the sidewalks fill with wealthy Brooklynites up for the weekend.

“We’re doing a lot of damage to this place and it will bear out 10-20 years from now,” he said “…most people would not want live in a place like Nantucket or Colonial Williamsburg, where you’re just in this snow globe, this ahistorical idea of a place that doesn’t reflect anymore the poor people who live there, or just becomes a simulacrum of a place, instead of a place itself.”

Afterword: Reassessments and Chunky Quotes

Hudson is really freaking out over the assessments. The issue was brought up

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