KINGSTON – Tenants and homeowners outnumbered landlords more than 2-1 at Saturday’s Kingston Rent Guidelines Board hearing. The majority of speakers called for the Board to freeze rents for one-and two-year leases and expressed support for last year’s 15% rent reduction, which is currently making its way through the courts.
Before the hearing, more than thirty Ward 1 residents attended a rally for Kingston Common Council candidate Charlotte Lloyd, co-hosted by For the Many and Mid-Hudson Valley DSA, at For the Many’s Kingston office. Speakers included Ulster County Legislator Phil Erner, New Paltz Deputy Mayor Alex Wojcik, Stony Run Tenants Union Organizing Committee member Teresa Greene, Mid Hudson Valley DSA member Sebastian Pelliterri, and For the Many Political Coordinator Daniel Atonna.
At the hearing, only eight landlords and their allies spoke, and only half explicitly asked the Board to increase rents. In contrast, eighteen tenants, homeowners, and their allies spoke at the hearing, with fourteen asking the Board to freeze rents. This included members of the Stony Run Tenants Union, Tenants PAC, Mid-Hudson Valley DSA, and For the Many, and Mayor Steve Noble, Ulster County Legislator Phil Erner, and Alderwoman Michele Hirsch.
One notable pro-landlord speaker was Meagan Bianco, the director of community engagement for Ulster Strong, a corporate front group for real estate, banks, consultants, and other companies. She used her time to condemn Kingston’s “rent control” and directly attack For the Many as an “outside force…creating national headlines and pitting locals against locals” because of alleged “national interests.” (Ironically, Bianco is listed as working at CBRE Group, a Fortune 500 “Global Corporate Real Estate” firm.)
Bianco appeared to not understand that rent stabilization is already in effect in Kingston, and simply deferred to “the experts” when asked what specific rent guidelines Ulster Strong would suggest. When a Board member was confused what Ulster Strong was, Bianco quickly accused her of targeted “harassment.”
The last landlord to testify was Irene Caslin, who owns twenty-four properties along with her husband. One of those is 22 Maiden Lane, a seven-unit rent stabilized building. Caslin claimed that while she doesn’t raise rents for two seniors on fixed incomes, because she “needs to also make some money, I’m raising rents on all other five apartments.” If this is true, this would be illegal under Kingston’s current rent freeze.
Stony Run Tenants Union member Charlotte Lloyd also testified in support of last year’s 15% rent reduction, a rent freeze for the coming year, and explained how her tenant organizing has encouraged her to run for Common Council in the June 27th Democratic primary.
Lloyd is running to succeed Alderwoman Hill in the open Ward 1 seat, and is endorsed by the Stony Run Tenants Union, For the Many, Mid Hudson Valley DSA, Tenants PAC, Run for Something, Assemblymember Sarahana Shrestha, and Ulster County Legislator Phil Erner. Lloyd has outraised her opponent with twice as many overall donations, more donations from Kingston, and an average contribution amount that is half as large.
“We’re very pleased by yesterday’s Kingston Rent Guidelines Board hearing, where tenants and homeowners showed up in support of a rent freeze for the following year,” said For the Many Political Director Brahvan Ranga, who testified on behalf of the organization on Saturday. “Unfortunately, a handful of landlords advocated for an outrageous rent increase, at a moment when Kingston is in a historic housing crisis with skyrocketing rents. One landlord even appeared to testify about plans to illegally raise rents on her rent-stabilized tenants, which tenants have been experiencing across the city. This is unacceptable, and we will continue organizing tenants in support of a rent freeze for the coming year, as well as to restore last year’s 15% rent reduction. To do that, we will be electing Stony Run Tenants Union organizer Charlotte Lloyd to the Kingston Common Council on June 27th.”
“At a time when New York’s state government has abdicated its responsibility in addressing the housing emergency, and the real estate lobby has openly celebrated the gridlock and committed to redouble its efforts, those who are the furthest away from homeownership—tenants—must rise to the challenge of representing working class New Yorkers in all levels of government,” said Assemblymember Sarahana Shrestha (D-Ulster, Dutchess), who represents Kingston in the State Assembly. “I am thrilled to endorse Charlotte Lloyd to represent Ward 1 in the Kingston Common Council. Charlotte is a cashier and a tenant organizer who is one of many in a young generation of New Yorkers facing an uphill battle when it comes to wage and housing stability. I am inspired by Charlotte’s courage to step up, and not only is she running for the right reasons, but, like me, she is running with the backing of a movement that exists outside of insider politics. Charlotte is one of the two candidates who have been endorsed this year by Mid-Hudson Valley DSA, of which I am a member. The other is Megan Deichler, who has been re-endorsed and is running for re-election in Poughkeepsie.”