Hudson Valley renters struggle to find affordable housing

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

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.

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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.”

 

Related: Defining “affordable”: How much should you spend on housing?

 

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.”

There are 7 comments

  1. Rich Lowry

    Noble has all of the plans to fix this problem. Maybe he should work in his office more often. I’m sure is wife is still working out of title and being compensated for this. This family continues to rip off city taxpayers.

  2. Planner

    Kingston Needs to do the following, and its residents need to stop blocking new development. (There’s a lot of thinking here, so don’t knee-jerk in the first three paragraphs). Think and imagine.

    1. Get designs and construction up and running at the Golden Hill & Lawton Park locations = 160 Units,
    perhaps a few more, final number being determined.

    2. Get approvals and construction going for The Kingstonian = 143 Units, 11 of those affordable.
    (The Kingstonian is an absolutely valid proposal; pulling higher-rent residents to new construction
    take those residents out of the pool of people requiring affordable units. Right now, 143 units not
    existing puts at least 143 Renters in direct competiton with renters seeking more affordable units).

    We can’t only be building “affordable” unites because we have more than one consumer living here.
    By pulling folks who spend more out of the competition for affordable units you widen the options for everyone. Kingston-Ulster County should be encouraging even more new development; particularly
    in our older, post-industrial districts. There should be new units build on the Roundout. All of this creates
    a diverse housing market for all price points. More units = more postive competitive rents = more
    affordable options.

    Then there are the old IBM site and the Hudson Valley Mall. I would be fast-tracking a master plan for both of those sites, with the town of Ulster, to re-develop them for large-scale apartment and condo complexes.

    The Hudson Valley Site I would consolidate all mall tenants at the Target-Dicks end of the mall, keep the Cinemas, and then tear down all of that empty space. With the medical offices at the South end, and retail at the North end – there could be a complete re-design of the massive vacant parking fields and build a landscaped, heavily tree-planted series of 3, 4, and 5-story loft-style units. With eash access to the K-R Bridge, 209, and 87, these new units (you could do 250?) would become a very desirable location for folks who commute across the river. The redevelopment of the future Hudson River State Park that’s planned with the massive land-conservancy purchase would be nearby, and bike-walking trails could be developed to connect directly to that new amenity.

    Likewise, the IBM site could accomodate a completely re-imagined landscape with greenspace, loft-apartments & condos (275?), trails, all with convenience to Kingston and the 9W retail corridor.

    Both of these would vastly improve the character and use of the area; it would put new residence within shopping distance, boosting retailers there, and attracting new ones. This could also be a catalyst –
    perhaps those developers work with the local governents and support funding sidewalks the length of 9W in the strip; planting trees; new street lights; clearly designated crosswalks; and re-paving 9W through the strip. Essentially “calming down” the chaotic mix of signage, lack of pedestrian access, and traffic control.

    Kingston-Ulster is going to have to stop thinking “small” and “piecemeal” and get a fast-tracked master plan together. Kingston doesn’t end at the town line; Ulster doesn’t end at the town line; and Rhinebeck to Germantown to Tivoli and Red Hook and far beyond all come to, and count on Ulster, Kingston and the strip for much of their shopping and services.

    We have to zoom out about 10,000 feet, look at the wasted space in that area, the false-starts at
    redevelopment and basically erase large chunks of what’s there and re-build it for mixing residential, retail, and recreational access to the outlying areas.

    Big picture = Big idea = Big opportunity to attract a couple of big players to design and build the future in this area. The way we’re looking at it now doesn’t work and we are a very attractive place to live, visit, and make far better than it is today.

    There is momentum, but it is only a fraction of what is possible to improve the quality of life for all residents.
    We’ve recently gotten 57 new units at Energy Square, which turned out very nicely, the design and
    construction are 100% appropriate for the wharehouse/post-industrial area surrounding it. The Alms house redevelopment will bring another 34 units. (That’s 91 new units, a start). However, we’ve got to think big and get moving now.

    We can it, there are many passionate and smart people here — old and new — but it can’t be a fight, its
    got to be a united effort. And we can’t be scared to grow. Stagnation is the biggest threat to a vibrant
    community – region.

    Let’s make this place amazing and be able to look all the nay-sayers in the eye and just invite them to enjoy what’s possible with us.

    1. Bobby Burke

      Can not understand why Amazon has not found any interest in the Tech-City/IBM piece of property. It seems too me it is perfect for their operation. Train, major highway connection north, south, east, and west and plenty of space. They are building large shipping exchange warehouses everywhere, funny they never looked here. Did our leaders drop the ball? Drive-in movie theatre’s are making a huge comeback due too covid-19, imagine knocking all those buildings down, and building a Drive-in movieplex, with three, four, six or more screens. It is the future of concerts, rally’s, play’s, and many other public events, not too mention the safest way too see a movie from now on. Whatever, they do, do something create jobs.

  3. Joelle

    There are no rent control laws for the state of New York, just within the city. With salaries that do not reflect the actual cost of living, those that do not qualify for rental assistance are in a terrible position due to the influx of people earning city wages able to pay higher rents.

    Real rent policies need to be put in place for ALL New Yorkers.

    1. HV Investor

      I rehabilitated 10 uninhabitable units over 6 years (mostly 3BRs averaging 1400 for rent in Dutchess) I stopped any further acquisitions when NY passed the new rent laws that threaten us with upstate rent control. I also no longer accept tenants below 650 credit because I can no longer take a two month deposit. I just reject them all now, even though in the past, some of them worked out. For those that didn’t, I was sufficiently protected with the extra deposit to not lose too much money. I won’t take the risk now, and neither will any other smart landlords. For any future vacancies, I will also require bank evidence of rent having been paid throughout the covid period to make sure I eliminate anyone that screwed their prior landlord now that many in government feel it’s OK to just let people live in your house for free indefinitely while still charging us all the usual fees, taxes, inspections, etc. The NYC liberals need to think harder about what they are doing passing these laws… investing my money in improving local housing is now too big a risk. With the threat of more government control of our properties, more small investors like myself will come to the same conclusion and move our money to the stock market instead. Which just exacerbates the housing crisis in NY.

      1. Joelle

        Maybe you shouldn’t be a landlord. Perhaps you’re part of the problem. Housing should be for everyone and rent regulations help the working poor. Sorry that’s such a liberal concept for you.

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