Kingston mayor Steve Noble’s behind-the-scenes deal with Aker Companies, owner of the 267-unit Stony Run — the largest rent-stabilized property in Kingston — finally got the green light on Wednesday, March 22. A special meeting was convened specifically for the second go-round of the resolution.
The common council voted 7 to 1 in favor of the resolution, with alder Michelle Hirsch opposed.
The Stony Run tenants union and housing advocates For the Many were dismayed by the outcome,
Aker’s principals were relieved, They will go ahead with their plans to seek the loans dependent upon the re-designation of the Stony Run complex as workforce housing.
Pushing upward the allowable limit of rent charged at Stony Run to 120 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) is necessary for higher tiers of loan amounts, had nothing to do with the amount of rents, Aker pointman Will Brocker said.
Previous to this agreement, Aker was prohibited from charging this higher rental amount by the city’s Emergency Tenants Protection Act (ETPA), under which all properties with six units or more built before 1974 were effectively rent- stabilized. The ETPA came into effect last year through the City of Kingston’s declaration of a housing emergency — the declaration signed by the mayor. Without the mayor’s interference, increases to the higher rent ceiling would have been illegal.
The tenants’ organization of Stony Run has maintained its members were never consulted about their wishes or informed about the deal until its public announcement on February 17. The organization met with representatives of Aker on March 6, the day before the previous vote sending the resolution back to the Laws and Rules Committee.
The agreement protects current Stony Run tenants under the terms of the ETPA for 40 years, regardless of whether the housing emergency in Kingston comes to an end.
A housing vacancy survey is to be performed every three years to ascertain what percentage of housing is available for rent. Should available rentals be found to be above five percent of the housing stock, the rent protections under the housing emergency declaration would expire, leaving tenants unprotected to the vagaries of the market.
According to the resolution, the term “workforce housing” encompasses units affordable to essential workers within the city, including teachers, nurses, most employees of non-profit organizations, and front-line service workers.
While the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development asserts that the Area Median Income (AMI) in Kingston is $82,828 (median, not average) a rent of 120 percent would be $2733 a month for three-bedroom units.
Employed at Health Alliance Hospital in Kingston, local nurse Rixey Browning would qualify as an essential worker. She laughs at that number as an example of affordable housing. “That is outrageous,” said Browning. “Starting salary for new RNs just got increased to $40 an hour, base. I definitely wouldn’t be able to afford that on my salary.”
It was time for member comments before the council vote. The rowdy informality that has come to define these rancorous meetings once again asserted itself, prompting council president Andrea Shaut to caution the room.
“At the beginning of the meeting I asked you to adhere to the decorum rules,” said Shaut. “There’s a lot of chatter going on. Very distracting, because we hear all the whispers. [I’ll ask for] none of the jeering or yelling at our council members when they have the floor. I don’t want to kick anybody out, but I will if I have to.”
A police officer stood ready, observing the occasionally noisy crowd of tenants and advocates gathered in the pews.
When he addressed his colleagues, alder Michael Olivieri chastised the audience to some degree. “The hate, the lies and the vileness that has been directed to alderwoman Hill is a tremendous disappointment,” said Olivieri. “This woman deeply cares about the residents at Stony Run. She has dedicated her blood, sweat and tears to ensuring the residents of her ward, especially Stony Run, have their voices heard and are fairly represented. And shame on those who have attacked her personally.”
Alder Hill, the council representative from the ward in which Stony Run is located, was absent. Councilmembers explained that Hill had gone on a pre-planned trip.
Before the vote, alder Hirsch moved to include five amendments provided to the council by the tenants union, There was no second to the motion. Hirsch spoke against the resolution, expressing skepticism about the mayor’s methods.
“I think it’s fair to say that the current owners have an unfair advantage over their tenants with the help of the mayor,” said Hirsch, “and most of this council, in regards to Resolution 58, which allows the mayor to enter into a regulatory agreement unchecked. As [Aker] will receive an as-of-right tax abatement which enables the owners to pay property tax on net income instead of the property value, this affects the finances of Kingston, and property-tax holders. Everyone knows the owners overpaid by millions on this property, and it is not the taxpayers’ responsibility to bail them out.”
Agreement not yet public
After the meeting, activist group For the Many announced their endorsement of 25-year-old Charlotte Lloyd, a Stony Run tenant and member of the tenants’ union to primary Barbara Hill in June.
“I’ve spent many days and nights worrying about how long my partner and I have before we have nowhere to live,” said Lloyd. “I’m running because we all deserve to live in a community where families can play outside, seniors can enjoy their retirement, and no one has to stress about how they’re going to make rent. We all deserve a roof over our heads, a floor under our feet, and somewhere to call home. And we all deserve to afford living in Kingston.”
After the vote, alder Rennie Scott-Childress called to suspend the rules of the session long enough to consider a resolution acknowledging the amendments furnished by the tenants union and promising a further process involving the mayor, Aker management and the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal.
The resolution introduced by Scott-Childress urged the mayor to give due consideration to the amendments proposed by the tenants’ association, and to provide detailed commentary for adopting or declining the amendments — to be shared promptly both the tenants association and the common council.
The agreement announced between the mayor and Aker has yet to be made available to the public. It is said to extend existing ETPA protections for 40 years to current tenants and family members. Both Brocker of Aker and alder Scott-Childress, who has seen the agreement, say that no one will pay the allowable 120 percent AMI rent ceiling which Aker has pursued. Another councilmember familiar with the document said that there was nothing to stop the landlords from changing their minds.