County legislature under serious pressure to act on tenant protection law

The public comment period of the November 16 Ulster County Legislature meeting was dominated by demands for a Good Cause Eviction law protecting renters after similar laws were recently passed in Poughkeepsie, Newburgh and Albany. 

Phil Erner, who will take Legislature Chairman David Donaldson’s seat in District 6 next after defeating Donaldson and Republican Suzanne Timbrouck in the election a couple of weeks back, asked the legislature to consider if they’ve ever been in a situation that forced them from their home or a situation where they forced someone from their home. 

“I’ve been elected to join this esteemed body to pass laws and spend money to protect residents from displacement,” Erner said. “I find it embarrassing and outrageous there’s nothing on the agenda this month to do so.”

Advertisement

A Good Cause Eviction law, Local law number 7 of 2021 was first proposed by County Legislator Abe Uchitelle of Kingston. If enacted, the law would prevent a landlord from removing a tenant from a housing accommodation without a court order. The law also seeks to limit unreasonable rent increases and help prevent intimidation of tenants by landlords. It comes as the area struggles with a growing housing crisis that has received national attention.

Erner recounted the stories of neighbors in his district like a family that was offered a sale price on a home before the COVID-19 pandemic only to see it raised by three times since then. Another resident has seen their mortgage payment go up to 2.5 times, while still others have seen their assessments skyrocket, he said. 

Joining the call for a countywide good cause eviction law was Liz Vogt a relative newcomer to the area who moved to Kingston from Mississippi. She said in the past few years she’s seen gentrification decimate her community. 

“If the county and city don’t act there will be massive displacement particularly of low-income families and people of color,” Vogt said. Such a law will protect families and seniors alike, she added. “When kids have housing security they thrive in school and our social services are less strained.” 

Diana Lopez, a community organizer for the group For the Many, a not-for-profit formerly known as Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson that states on its website its main areas of advocacy are immigration, racial justice, housing, healthcare, climate and energy and economic justice, said she was happy Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, Albany passed good cause eviction laws. She said she’s previously shared stories of the landlords she’s gone through and she was deeply disappointed it wasn’t on the agenda for this month’s meeting. “I’m here to ask the legislature to set a public hearing so folks can come out,” she said. She fears what will happen when the eviction moratorium expires in January. “There will be even more families in the street and children will need to change schools in the middle of the year,” she predicted. “We really need to step this up as other places did to get his passed.” 

Isaiah Morris who lives on the border of Kingston and the town of Ulster, and also volunteers for For the Many, came to push the legislature to host a public hearing on Good Cause Eviction. 

Mario Rosario Lara, of New Paltz, joined online to express concern about rising rents, relating how her rent increased 10 percent last year and now 11 percent this year. She said she now pays $2000 a month for her apartment and estimates she spends 70 percent of her income on rent with the remaining 25 percent going to food and other expenses. “My neighbors are worried, particularly senior citizens, they’re afraid of owners taking action against them,” Rosario Lara said. “I’m also afraid of that. “My kids are nervous we’ll get kicked out.” She decried the lack of a law protecting tenants. “It’s like we’re second-class citizens.”

She said this legislation is supported by a “vast majority of residents” in a county where renters make up 57 percent of the population and she demanded the legislature pass it before the eviction moratorium runs out.
 
The Ulster County Legislature will meet on Thursday, December 2 to vote on its 2022 budget and will meet in its annual session Tuesday, December 14.

Post Your Thoughts