Kingston’s Good Cause Eviction law may not pass before state eviction moratorium expires

Barring an emergency session of the Common Council, Good Cause Eviction for the City of Kingston will not go into effect prior to the January 15 expiration of the state’s eviction moratorium. 

The proposed legislation was sent back to committee during a meeting of the Common Council held on Tuesday, December 7. It was intended to be a first reading of the law, but was held up after considerable public opposition to an amendment included during a meeting of the  

Laws and Rules Committee on Wednesday, November 17. That amendment, which limited the legislation to buildings with more than four rental units as a means of lessening the impact on “mom and pop” landlords, would have excluded roughly two-thirds of Kingston renters from protection, said critics. 

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“I was excited to see Kingston take up this bill,” said Paul Mersfelder, a homeowner and landlord who supports Good Cause Eviction legislation. “But when I read in the paper that the Kingston bill would exclude buildings of less than (five) units, frankly I was ashamed and angry that our city would be the one that tried to gut this bill and exclude 60 percent of renters…This isn’t about picking a side between landlords or tenants…It’s about protecting our city from those who want to line their own pockets at the expense of the people who make Kingston great.”

“Good cause” evictions are identified in the proposed law as failure to pay rent, violating terms of a lease, causing a nuisance, violation of the law, or if the owner is selling the building. Supporters of the legislation feel it’s a vital step in giving renters a sense of security in an exploding housing market by capping annual rent increases at 5 percent.

The Laws and Rules Committee will next meet on Wednesday, December 15, but even if the proposed legislation makes it out of the meeting without the amendment included last month it seems unlikely it will be up for a full vote by the Common Council until their meeting on Tuesday, February 2. That’s because, procedurally, new legislation cannot be passed until a second reading; without an emergency session, the next possible opportunity for a first reading would be at the next Common Council meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, January 4. 

“I know that’s extremely frustrating to folks who have been speaking, but this is part of the issue of government,” said Majority Leader Reynolds Scott-Childress, a Democrat representing Ward 3. “Government does sometimes move slowly because we’re trying to find the right way to make sure we do the right thing.”

That may be unwelcome news to those who spoke in favor of the proposed legislation, albeit without the November 17 amendment.  

“Either you think the majority of your constituents deserve some basic protections before the eviction moratorium expires or you don’t,” said Jonathan Bix, director of the organization For the Many. “But make a choice between those two things and stand behind your choice. 

Council approves partial Fair Street Ext. abandonment for Kingstonian

The Kingston Common Council on December 7 approved the partial abandonment of Fair Street Extension for use as a public plaza by The Kingstonian, a mixed-use development proposal for uptown Kingston that has generated pushback from some members of the community. 

The move was adopted by a 6-3 vote, with Democrats Jeffrey Ventura Morell (Ward 1), Rita Worthington (Ward 4) and Michele Hirsch (Ward 9) opposing. The Fair Street Extension in question is a one-block road running between North Front Street and Schwenk Drive. 

“Whether we call this an easement, discontinuance, abandonment, partial abandonment, vacated, decommissioned, demolished, closed, disposed, otherwise non-existent street, the street is no longer going to be a public thoroughfare,” said Hirsch during the Tuesday, December 7 meeting of the Common Council. “And our community, what I am hearing is that they do not want this to move forward.”

Among those opposing the move were Kingston City School District Board of Education President James Shaughnessy and several uptown businesses operating in properties owned by William Gottlieb Real Estate; those parties filed a joint petition December 6 with the New York State Supreme Court in Ulster County seeking to preemptively prevent the partial abandonment of Fair Street Extension, in part due to a planned public hearing that was scheduled for December 2 but did not materialize due to technical difficulties. 

“We are extremely disappointed by the City Council’s decision…to give away the Fair Street Extension at no cost to for-profit developers,” said Victoria Polidoro, a representative of William Gottlieb Real Estate, in a December 8 press release. “The whole purpose of the December 2 public hearing was to allow Kingston citizens to voice their concerns and be heard by their elected officials. That democratic process did not happen. We are outraged that the City is moving forward in blatant disregard of citizens’ concerns. Should the Mayor — or any other official — implement this wildly inappropriate action, there could be significant legal repercussions. We urgently encourage citizens to contact the City Council and Mayor to stop this egregious action.”

Prior to the Common Council vote on the matter, several area residents spoke against the partial abandonment. 

“The traffic implications of closing Fair Street Extension are severe, and I don’t think they’ve been seriously studied,” said Sarah Wenk. “Just one of the many questions that arose for me when I read it is that the original traffic study…suggested the installation of numerous traffic lights in uptown to accommodate the changed traffic patterns. But over the past year the city has removed many such lights citing the difficulty of repairing outdated equipment and the lack of funds to replace it. So who is going to buy and maintain a dozen new traffic lights? It seems like a question worth answering.”

Others focused on the perception that the city was giving up a piece of property and receiving nothing in return. 

“The opponents of the giveaway have a rich and wide array of reasons to not indulge in this welfare for millionaires,” said Ilana Ross. “The supporters, on the other hand, parrot the same few bogus reasons that the developers and their PR cheerleaders have dreamed up.”

Ventura Morell said that the public’s voices were not being heard in the matter. 

“This is about conveying public property,” Morell said. “I’ve always maintained that if we are going to give away property that belongs to the residents of the city of Kingston they should be the ones voting for it. So for that reason I will be a no vote.”

But Majority Leader Reynolds Scott-Childress, a Democrat representing Ward 3, dismissed the idea that the land was being given away, instead describing it as repurposing for the benefit of the community. 

“We’re not ‘giving away’ the street, we’re not deeding the street over to a private company,” said Scott-Childress. “The basic idea here is that there’s going to be the construction of a public plaza over the area that’s now the street. So the abandonment of the street is simply a reuse, if you will, to move it from its current use to being a public plaza, a place where people can gather, a place where people can wander and look out to the north to see the mountains in the distance. Moreover, it’s part of a project that’s going to add lots of housing to the City of Kingston.”

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The proposed Kingstonian plan includes 143 residential units, 14 of which are earmarked as affordable; a 32-room boutique hotel; 8,900 square feet of commercial space; and a 420-space parking garage, with nearly half of the spaces open to the public. 

Some councilmen who voted in favor of the move said they weren’t fans of the entire project, but didn’t feel that was enough to hold it up. 

“This has been a very long and torturous process, and I really appreciate all the people that wrote and spoke for and against the project,” said Don Tallerman, a Democrat representing Ward 5. “It’s not a perfect project, and there’s some things I don’t love about it. But in the end we need to pay for our tax base, to create jobs. This project will be bringing economic activity, and with that come more people who are using our stores and our restaurants, spending money in Ulster County, creating more tax revenue.”

Alderman Tony Davis, a Democrat representing Ward 6, said that past lawsuits against The Kingstonian have always come out in favor of the developer and city. 

“I call on you to abandon the status quo of denying development in Uptown Kingston in favor of real change,” Davis said.