The Kingston Common Council is expected to begin deliberations next month on whether and how to adopt new regulations that would cap annual rent increases at some city apartments. The proposed rent stabilization rules are part of a broader effort by city officials to stem gentrification and displacement.
Mayor Steve Noble said he would send the results of a rental vacancy survey commissioned last year to the Common Council later this week. The survey is a necessary first step towards declaring a “housing emergency” in Kingston under the provisions of the Emergency Tenant Protection Act. Council President Andrea Shaut is expected to hand those results to the Laws and Rules Committee for discussion and a potential vote on whether to recommend that the full council declare a housing emergency and enact rent regulation.
The ETPA was first passed in 1974. Last year, state lawmakers renewed the law and, for the first time, gave upstate communities the power to opt into its provisions. The law allows communities with a rental vacancy rate of less than 5 percent to appoint a rent stabilization board with the power to cap annual rent increases. The regulations apply to buildings with six or more rental units that were built before 1974; smaller and newer rental units would be unaffected by the rent caps. According to a rough estimate by city assessor Dan Baker, about 80 rental properties holding between 1,000 and 1,200 households could fall under the ETPA guidelines.
Supporters of the rent stabilization law, who include Noble, Common Council President Andrea Shaut and Majority Leader Rennie Scott-Childress (D-Ward 3), say that the regulations are necessary to prevent residents from being displaced at large apartment complexes where new owners have introduced sharp rent increases. But the potential new rules face pushback from property owners and others who worry that capping rent increases will have unintended negative consequences, including discouraging the development of badly needed new rental units or pushing landlords to convert existing rental apartments into less affordable condominiums.
Alderwoman Michele Hirsch (D-Ward 9) said she fully supports the housing emergency declaration, but was open to discussion on some aspects of the law, including the size of rental properties that would be subject to regulation.
“There are pros and cons,” said Hirsch, who sits on the council’s recently formed Housing Subcommittee. “I know there are concerns about potentially losing rental units and we want to be sensitive to that.”
The law provides a level of flexibility to communities that opt in to rent stabilization. Debate on the Common Council is likely to revolve around exactly how to implement the regulations. For example, the law could increase the number of units necessary to come under the regulations, letting smaller landlords off the hook. The council could also opt to apply the cap on rent hikes only to units occupied by the elderly or disabled. Lawmakers could also exempt property owners from the rent regulations in exchange for keeping units affordable.
Noble said he anticipated the council would seek input from different stakeholders as they work towards shaping the law. “I think they’re going to want to hear from landlords and tenants,” he said. “They want to have a full discussion of the issue.”
But housing activists say they plan to keep pressure on lawmakers to enact the rent stabilization law in full. Rashida Tyler, co-founder of The Real Kingston Tenants Union, said the pushback from real estate interests was evident in a robocall received by Kingston residents recently which warned of dire consequences if the ETPA was adopted. Tyler said that the call, the origin of which is unclear, was similar to one received by Ossining residents last year as the Westchester County village was weighing its own rent stabilization law. Tyler said the robocall contained misinformation and was clearly aimed at swaying the debate in Kingston.
“Ultimately there is a will on the part of the council and city government [to enact the ETPA] but if there’s too much misinformation out there it can hinder the process,” said Tyler. “My concern is that we will end up with a watered-down system full of workarounds and loopholes that will not accomplish what it is supposed to.”