POUGHKEEPSIE – “Housing to me is a right,” New York State Attorney General Tish James said in her opening remarks, as she convened the Hudson Valley Tenant Roundtable last Thursday at the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory.
The roundtable was dedicated to housing issues in the Hudson Valley. Seated around the large table were Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, NY State Senator Sue Serino, Assemblymember Didi Barret, Poughkeepsie Mayor Rob Rolison, as well as representatives from Hudson Valley Legal Services, Community Voices Heard, Hudson River Housing and Rural Ulster Preservation Company (RUPCO).
The purpose of the roundtable was to address the services and programs that will be available to New Yorkers in the Hudson Valley once the eviction moratorium expires at the end of next month. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic many programs and services were put into place to ensure people had the help they needed during a difficult time. Now it is expected that a “floodgate” is about to be opened with a “tidal wave” of evictions.
It would seem that most in the room view the pending moratorium ending as a “crisis” that will affect many people, as they fear a wave of evictions.
Hudson Valley Legal Services spoke specifically about the issues they encounter with the judicial system and the need for more attorney’s and advocates to assist tenants with housing issues. They also spoke of how some landlords call code enforcement on their own property in an attempt to get their tenants out. Some have even resorted to disconnecting services as a means to force out tenants.
Eli Berkowitz of Community Voices Heard suggested New York create a housing diversion program like other states. It would have tenants and landlords enter into mediation in an attempt to work out their differences before entering the court system seeking eviction.
Another issue discussed was the Emergency Rent Assistance Program (ERAP) and the difficulty some face with getting both parties (landlord and tenant) to complete the necessary paperwork. Landlords were not at the table to comment on their position, however they have had no moratorium on property or school taxes while possibly not collecting rent for over a year.
For those who may be evicted, another problem exists that County Executive Molinaro addressed – a lack of housing stock. He indicated that there has been a significant decrease in housing in the last several years, and the pandemic has only made the situation worse.
Sheila Kilpatrick of RUPCO said they have more applicants than they do units to rent. In some cases hundreds more, which shows a significant need for affordable housing in the Hudson Valley.
Justin Haines of Legal Services said, “People are looking to move and transition without becoming homeless, and there is nothing available, either because of the price, the condition of it, or just plain availability.”
Molinaro suggested that one solution may be inclusionary zoning in the county that would require developers to set aside a predetermined amount of affordable housing when they have their project approved.
After listening for more than an hour and a half, the New York State Attorney General thanked everyone for their input, acknowledging that something needs to be done, and that her office will be working on ways to assist those who need help.