By Sophia Jahadhmy
More than 150 people gathered over Zoom on Friday, March 19, to attend an educational event sponsored by the Ulster County Coalition for Housing Justice (UCCHJ) The coalition was formed in May 2020 to respond to the housing crisis as rapidly as possible. View a 60-minute edited version of the discussion here.
Rashida Tyler, a UCCHJ member, opened the discussion by reminding the group that the Covid-19 pandemic has turned the housing crunch into a public health crisis. She described the threat of evictions as a potential ‘tsunami’ with many people living with the stress and fear of the pandemic, eviction, homelessness, and displacement all at once. Tyler urged the group to use the time to identify potential solutions.
Marisa McClinton and Diana Lopez told of their own struggles to find decent affordable housing and urged others to do the same. They stressed that anyone can become housing insecure with devastating effects on families. McClinton is a life-long Ulster County resident and social justice advocate running for the District 12 seat in the county legislature. Lopez is an organizer with Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson based in Kingston.
Both women stressed that the entire community must work together to address the housing crisis. Their advice? Speak up. Share your story. Listen and look with an open mind.
Eline Martinez, a caseworker with Catholic Charities of Orange, Sullivan, and Ulster noted that everyone, regardless of immigration status, wants to live in a place that is safe, affordable, and comfortable. Martinez pointed out that many undocumented community members do not feel protected despite the moratorium on evictions. They worry that the systems they turn to for help may share their information with ICE.
[Editor’s note: In January, the Ulster County sheriff told UIDN, “The eviction moratorium covers all tenants until at least May. Tenants who have been resident for at least one month are protected — with lease or without lease, with papers or without papers, documented or undocumented.” The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) made changes to its “public charge” rules in March, making it safe for undocumented community members to ask for help. Download details.]
In February, the county executive and legislature released an Ulster County Housing Action Plan. Its recommends establishing a housing task force, collaborating with developers for scattered site redevelopment, increasing the supply of supported and transitional housing, and creating a “Smart Communities” initiative. Two county leaders joined the discussion.
March Gallagher, Ulster County’s comptroller, described housing as a human right. The numbers she cited help explain the housing crisis. For example, between 2015 and 2019, home sale prices increased by 46% and rental costs increased by 15.5%. During the same period investors “flipped” 1,027 apartments in Kingston. That means they bought properties with the intent of quickly reselling at a profit. This is a significant cause of rapid gentrification as it drives up rents and makes apartments inaccessible to many community members.
Evelyn Wright, deputy county executive and chair of the Ulster County Housing Advisory Committee that wrote the report believes we must provide dignified and affordable housing for everyone. She wants to see safe housing at every socio-economic level and and end to displacement. Wright described the following contributors to the housing crisis:
- Very low inventory
- New construction that is all on the high end
- High development costs
- Lengthy and uncertain approval processes, especially for “affordable” projects
- Community opposition to new construction
Here are some steps Wright believes would help increase the housing supply:
- Permit more Accessory Dwelling Units
- Build more multi-family housing on vacant land in existing neighborhoods
- Use zoning and other regulations strategically
- Streamline approval processes
- Educate and engage the community on the role housing plays in our economy, our neighbors’ well-being, and the health of our communities
- If you’re a renter, know your rights. Get videos and factsheets in English and Spanish, here.
- Sign UCCHJ’s petition and watch the website for events and actions.
Housing Crisis in Ulster County was cosponsored by Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, Real Kingston Tenants Union, Rise Up Kingston, Ulster Immigrant Defense Network, Citizen Action, Kingston Housing Lab, O+, HV Jewish Voice for Peace/Middle East Crisis Response, and others.