On March 30, just after 32-year-old Kenneth Conklin’s partner Geneva got out of surgery, the property manager for their cramped, one-bedroom Kingston apartment told Ken that the house had sold. They had to get out “like, yesterday.”
The property manager told him new owners wanted to turn the three-apartment Elmendorf Street house back into a single-family home. And they want to move in tomorrow.
Ken, a musician, said he got nasty and used some colorful language. “I have a problem with cursing,” he added.
In fact, the landlord’s views notwithstanding, Ken and Geneva still had several months to find a new home thanks to state law.
“My original landlord, Mike, he was an excellent landlord, very fair,” said Ken, who rented the Elmendorf apartment for $850 in 2017.
But Mike sold the building to a corporation in October of 2020 and the building sold again this year.
For Ken and Geneva, it’s been tough. They have a cat they’re not willing to abandon (Daniel Striped Tiger), and Ken has muscular dystrophy, so stairs are a problem.
Even after stretching their budget to $1300 a month, Ken and Geneva couldn’t find anything in Ulster County. They couldn’t get a mortgage, either; they discovered their credit needed repair. Geneva had missed some payments, and Ken, who didn’t even own a credit card, discovered an old battle with AT&T still marred his credit record.
Finally, they took an apartment some 25 miles east in Dutchess County— a long commute to Geneva’s job as a bank teller in Saugerties. “It’s a beautiful place,” said Geneva, “but it’s very isolated.” The new apartment has stairs, but Ken says he can manage for now.
The couple is hoping they won’t have to leave the Hudson Valley, but it was either leave Ulster County or become homeless. “What’s going on [with housing] is an atrocity,” said Ken, who blames the problem on an influx of money from New York City.
Getting priced out of your own hometown is a big fear for many locals. Adriana Yates and her partner, Jeremy, both 28, grew up in the Accord/Stone Ridge area. They were living at a rooming house in Tillson when the pandemic began.
“I freaked out,” said Adriana. “Everyone was living close together, with lots of common spaces.” One of her housemates had constant contact with the public. “It was very unsafe.”
The couple started looking. “Everything was out of our price range,” said Adriana. Jeremy was making a decent salary in construction, but Adriana, who was finishing her bachelor’s in geology at SUNY New Paltz, worked only part-time as a dog-walker. Their Tillson room cost $1100 including utilities.
Like many young couples, they hoped to buy a home: their start on the American Dream.
“We were looking at this place in Accord,” said Adriana. “It went up for sale at $145,000. Awesome!”
They were scheduled to view the house later that afternoon.
“When we got there, it was so crowded,” Adriana said, “we couldn’t find a place to park. It was packed with city people. I remember a BMW, a Tesla. There was a woman in heels walking up the hill on the gravel path.”
When they finally got inside, they discovered bad water damage. “By then, it was already out of our price range,” said Adriana. “Two-hundred and fifty thousand for a total gut job.”
Of all their viewings, that one discouraged Adriana and Jeremy the most. “People who came were so different, so foreign,” Adriana said. “They had the money and the time to gut the place.”
The couple was considering living with Jeremy’s parents in Accord when they got lucky.
“It was totally random,” said Adriana. A friend saw a “For Rent” sign outside a place in Stone Ridge. Adriana called immediately. The homeowner told Adriana that there were “people from the city with money who were looking.” Although he did no advertising, other than his sign, the homeowner said he was “swamped with calls.”
“It was a funny coincidence,” said Adriana. “It turned out the landlord knows my family. He’s the stepdad of my brother’s childhood best friend. We got so lucky!”
Last summer, Adriana and Jeremy moved into the two-bedroom apartment for $1500 a month, not including utilities. Adriana has graduated, but until she finds a job, housing eats up at least half of the couple’s income.
Woodstock and the dearly departed
“Lucky” is the word often employed by people who have found a home – even when it’s far from where they started.
Now in his early 40s, Ben, a musician and son of a musician, born and bred in Woodstock, has abandoned his roots and moved to his partner’s place in New Jersey. He says he’s grateful.
“I’m a musician; I don’t look good on paper,” said Ben. He spent a year searching for a home in the Woodstock area. “I ended up in my parents’ guest room for months and months … it was the only option.”
Ben often depended on friends and friends of friends to find a rental. “Mainly all the places [where] I’d been living are now Airbnbs; they make more in a summer than off of me in a year.” Ben says he doesn’t begrudge them the income, but, “I’m concerned for the soul of the town more than anything.”
Woodstock rental and sales prices show some of the highest rates in Ulster County. On Sunday, June 19, there was nothing listed on Zillow, but trulia.com listed a pet-friendly, one-bedroom apartment for $2250 a month, a three-bedroom cabin for $6,700 a month, and a three-bedroom house for $15,000 a month.
By contrast, a one-bedroom, basement apartment in Saugerties is advertised at $1450 a month, and a two-bedroom in New Paltz is going for $1,725 a month.
“I’m fourth generation in Woodstock,” said Anna Orsulich from her current apartment in Glasco. “My father unionized workers in this town.”
Neither she nor any of her nine siblings can afford Woodstock now.
“My father moved to Woodstock in a bus. We lived like gypsies,” said Anna, who at 46 is now disabled because of multiple brain surgeries and a stroke. She has one child still at home. “I’ve been trying for five years to purchase something.” She added, “You have to get lucky.”
Soon after Anna found her affordable but too-small Glasco apartment, her neighbor in the building passed away. She said, “The first thing I think is, ‘Oh my God, her apartment will be available.’ That’s just indicative of times we’re in now; your neighbor dies and you think, ‘Oh, her apartment, it’s available.’”
Anna got the neighbor’s apartment: a two-bedroom at $1200 a month including heat and hot water. “It’s a rare find,” Anna said. Recently, when another neighbor moved back to the city, the landlord advertised the one-bedroom for $875 and “he got, like, 700 calls,” said Anna. The landlord quickly rented the apartment for $1100.
“I got incredibly fortunate,” said Anna. But she knows many people still in trouble: a recently windowed friend and his son forced out by rising rents; another friend, dying of cancer, is sleeping on a friend’s porch in order to have loved ones nearby. “I know at least 15 people locally about to be displaced.”
Not surprisingly, as a renter, Anna has an ongoing feeling of housing insecurity. More than anything, she would like to own her own place. Her mother and stepfather own a house in West Hurley, but due to zoning, they can’t give Anna a piece of their land to build on.
“Local zoning and housing red tape haven’t caught up with the crisis,” she said. “It’s like a wildfire that’s being put out with buckets of water.”
When Anna met with the West Hurley building inspector, she asked him about the possibility of living on her mother’s back two acres in a tiny house.
“What’s that?” he replied.