While much attention has been given to the increase in local home prices, area renters are feeling the pinch. Even before the pandemic caused an influx of urban residents to seek housing away from ground zero of the Covid-19 outbreak in the spring, local rental prices were already on the rise. According to the 2019 Ulster County Rental Housing Survey, the average rent for a one-bedroom increased by 10.2 percent from 2018-19 ($933-$1028) and 16.8 percent from 2015-19 ($880-$1028); for a two-bedroom the increase was 8 percent from 2018-19 ($1198-$1294) and 34.9 percent from 2015-19.
We talked with four Hudson Valley renters to get their first-hand experience of renting during this time. This is what they had to say.
Nicole Benkert and her sister have been searching for a two-bedroom apartment within a 25-minute radius of Kingston since August. “We just can’t find a lot of options,” said Benkert. She said the two-bedrooms she’s seen are priced at $1400 or more, not including utilities. Right now, Benkert is paying $900 for a two-bedroom in Rensselaer. Her sister was paying $500 to rent a two-bedroom trailer, a good price due to special employee housing. While they’d each be paying the same amount if they went in on a $1400 apartment, it’d be half the size.
Benkert paid $685 a month (utilities included) for a studio three years ago. Units at that price are hard to come by in the current market. Her sister previously lived in the Ulster Gardens apartment complex in Kingston. Today, Ulster Gardens has a long wait list. One-bedrooms have a wait time of six months to a year and two- and three-bedroom units have a wait of two to three years.
“We want somewhere that doesn’t look sketchy,” said Benkert. “You see pictures, and it’s dirty, broken or gross and they want $1800, and it’s like what, why?”
Christopher Grande Jr., a real-estate agent, moved back to the Hudson Valley earlier this year to be closer to family after a dozen years in Brooklyn. “I feel like I have a leg up when it comes to looking,” said Grande. “I’ve been on the other end helping other people get an apartment in a competitive market.”
He understood all of the ins and outs beforehand – he knew what he was looking for, was prepared to pay for it, and jumped on the best offers. Even so, he said “nothing could have prepared me for it.”
Grande looked across Ulster County and into Dutchess for two months before settling on a location. (He and his partner preferred Beacon or Kingston, but ultimately they didn’t get a place in either.) “In those places, it’s probably ten times more competitive than I’ve seen it be in Williamsburg, a super hot spot in summer’s past,” said Grande.
As their search progressed, he and his partner lowered their expectations from “this is the one” to “will this do, is it adequate and can we live with this?” If the answer was yes to the latter, they’d apply.
Grande offered his advice for those looking for rentals right now. For units that include an application (an increasingly common requirement), he suggested having as much paperwork prepared as possible before applying and to take the search as seriously as one would an application for a job or a college.
“Put together anything you can that makes you look strong,” said Grande. “Put your best foot forward and don’t leave anything out.”
In one situation, Grande’s application wasn’t chosen for a Beacon apartment because they didn’t send the application in as fast as another person. “Some things you have no control over, but that you do,” said Grande.
He suggested applying with a cover letter to let the landlord know about your situation and why you’d be a good tenant. “Just because you got denied somewhere and they went with someone else, you might be a better fit for someone else without knowing it,” said Grande. “They might be specifically looking for someone like you.”
Lauria Smith of Kingston is a single mother who found herself in need of a new place in August when her landlord decided to put the house she lived in on the market. “I had a month to leave,” said Smith.
Smith said her income places her just above the threshold for social services. She has sought help from Family of Woodstock, Ulster County Community Action, Congressman Antonio Delgado’s office, and housing not-for-profit Rupco, which eventually did provide some assistance. After three months and three different moves, she finally found a place she liked in Kingston, only to have another tenant beat her to it. However, the other tenant relocated and the landlord went back to Smith and asked if she wanted it.
“Trying to find resources to be able to afford the down payment is really hard,” said Smith. “I know that there are so many people in the same predicament I was in.”
Rupco helped her obtain the security deposit for the apartment she’s in now. But she said most landlords don’t want to wait for that money to come through. Smith said, “people come here today with money in their hands.”
She is currently paying $950 for the one-bedroom apartment, not including utilities. “If I was to pay 30 percent of my income towards my rent, it’d be less than $800 a month,” said Smith.
Sharon Gray is a grandmother who’s raising three of her grandchildren, one of which has autism. They previously lived at Birchwood Village, an affordable housing development in Kingston, but had to move. She quickly contacted Rupco to find a place to live in the school district, but it was unable to help. Gray next moved in with her aunt in Kerhonkson, where her son was able to go to a better school in Rondout Valley School District. Eventually, she was able to move out because she found a three-bedroom trailer that she’s been living in since 2018, where she pays $1400 a month. However, recently the landlord told her she had to relocate because he was selling the place, similar to Smith’s situation.
Gray can’t find anything that is both in her price range and also meets her requirements of being in the same school district, allowing a dog, and not being too small, as her son suffers from claustrophobia.
For now, Gray is still on the search for a place to live while her landlord reminds her she has to relocate sooner than later. She’s afraid what will happen on January 1, when the state moratorium on evictions ends.
“It’s difficult for anyone to find a place to rent unless you have an excellent job, excellent credit, and you have megabucks,” said Gray. “I can’t find a place anywhere in Ulster County.”