KINGSTON – On last Wednesday night, by a 6–3 vote, the Kingston Rent Guidelines Board enacted a historic 15% rent reduction for over 1,200 apartments across 64 rent-stabilized buildings. This is the first rent reduction in New York State history and comes after months of organizing by tenants, For the Many, and other grassroots groups, including Citizen Action, Mid-Hudson Valley DSA, and Housing Justice for All.
This rent reduction will apply to all new one- and two-year leases which commence between August 1, 2022 and September 30, 2023. All landlords from eligible “ETPA buildings” are now required to offer these leases to tenants. The Board also voted to create a three-year lookback period for Fair Market Rent Appeals, which allows tenants a one-time challenge to their base rent, to which all future adjustments will be applied.
The six votes in favor of a rent reduction were tenant representatives Carol Soto and Michael Tierney and public representatives Mie Inouye, Noah Kippley-Ogman, Diana Lopez, and Arlene Puentes. The three votes against were property owner representatives Anthony Tampone and Tara Perry and public representative Michael Brown. Earlier in the meeting, Perry’s motion for a 5% rent increase failed 1–8. A straw poll for a 30% rent reduction attracted the support of Soto, Tierney, Inouye, and Lopez.
In July, after successful organizing by For the Many and other allies, Kingston declared a housing emergency to opt into the Emergency Tenant Protection Act (ETPA). This created the first Rent Guidelines Board in the state north of Rockland County. The Board governs rents for all buildings of six or more units built before 1974. This includes some of the largest apartment complexes in Kingston, including Stony Run, Fairview Gardens, Dutch Village, and Spring Brook Village.
In October, For the Many launched its Reduce Kingston’s Rents campaign, calling on the Board to enact a historic rent reduction and adopt a long lookback period. A reduction is necessary to counteract outrageous rent gouging by landlords. From 2016 to 2020, Ulster County rents rose by 27% for a one-bedroom apartment and 48% for a two-bedroom.
Rents have only shot up further during the pandemic; Zillow data shows that the average Kingston rent has doubled since 2015. More information can be found in this fact sheet.
At both public hearings held by the Board, tenants and their allies turned out overwhelmingly in support of a rent reduction. At the October 25th hearing, 22 of the 29 speakers were tenants or their allies. At the November 5th hearing, more than fifty speakers called for a rent reduction, with just two landlords testifying in opposition.
One of these landlords admitted to owning no ETPA buildings, and the other was Rich Lanzarone, executive director of the Hudson Valley Property Owners Association. Not only did he say hearing about the struggles of tenants makes him want to “puke,” but he also inexplicably cited the Magna Carta as a legal precedent. Lanzarone is also the lead plaintiff in a nonsensical lawsuit attempting to strike down the entire Board; a requested temporary restraining order has already been denied by a judge.
Many tenants who testified in favor of a rent reduction at the hearings were Stony Run residents. Their apartment complex is the largest ETPA-eligible one in Kingston, and was bought last year by real estate investment firm Aker Companies. Despite promising “very very minimal” rent increases, Aker has raised rents by as much as 67%, levied arbitrary fees, and neglected basic maintenance. This led Stony Run tenants—with the support of For the Many—to form a tenant union. Last Friday, members of its organizing committee traveled to Beacon to deliver a list of demands to Aker’s office.
Along with For the Many, supporters of the rent reduction include Citizen Action, Mid-Hudson Valley DSA, Housing Justice for All, the Kingston Interfaith Council, the Hudson Valley Justice Center, the Community Service Society, the Legal Aid Society, Assemblymember-elect Sarahana Shrestha, Ulster County Legislator Phil Erner, and Kingston Alderwoman Michele Hirsch. Several academics also submitted expert testimony in favor of a rent reduction, including Professor of Economics and Sustainable Development Dr. Eban Goodstein, Professor of Economics Timothy Koechlin, and Professor of Urban Studies Kwame Holmes.
“This is a monumental victory not just for Kingston tenants, but for tenants across New York,” said Aaron Narraph Fernando, Communications Lead at For the Many. “Any reduction in rents would have been historic, but the capacity for a 15% reduction to provide substantive relief to thousands of people cannot be overstated. We applaud the Rent Guidelines Board for their vote after hearing from more than seventy tenants, homeowners, and experts overwhelmingly in favor of a rent reduction. From seniors facing outrageous rent hikes, to pregnant moms thrown out on the street, to Stony Run residents receiving literal blackmail letters, Board members couldn’t ignore the stories of Kingston tenants. We’re excited for the reduction’s implementation and for the rest of the state to follow in Kingston’s footsteps. Rent stabilization and Good Cause are the keys to New York’s future.”
“I am proud of the decision made tonight and prouder still that so many members of our community stood up and said this Board needed to act decisively to keep tenants in their homes,” said Michael Tierney, tenant representative to the Kingston Rent Guidelines Board. “This reduction represents a paradigm shift in how we address the needs of the many over unregulated market conditions. I am so grateful for every tenant who courageously shared their story, as well as every advocate and expert who spoke about how destructive high rents are to a community, and to my fellow tenant representative Carol Soto for her determination and wisdom during these proceedings.”
“In 2019, the New York tenant movement made history when we won a massive expansion of rent stabilization,” said Cea Weaver, Campaign Coordinator at Housing Justice for All, a statewide coalition of more than 80 organizations representing tenants and homeless New Yorkers. “Today in Kingston, we’re seeing the fruits of that labor. This historic victory shows that when tenants fight, we win. In the face of an out-of-control housing crisis, tenants are coming together to demand our own solutions—not just in New York, but in Orlando, Santa Monica, and all over the country. Lawmakers should take note: we won’t be waiting for landlords and developers to free market our way out of this housing crisis. We will be taking the streets for Good Cause and a pro-tenant agenda to protect all New Yorkers from outrageous rent hikes. And we will win.”