Last month, tenants in Kingston, New York, a small city in the Hudson Valley, made history by winning a 15% rent reduction from their rent stabilization board—–the first rent decrease in New York. This victory stems from the recent efforts of tenants fighting nationwide to keep rent affordable amid rising housing costs, particularly for BIPOC.
Along with the Kingston rent reduction, tenants swept in a series of rent stabilization measures from California, Florida, and Maine during the midterm elections. According to organizers from Housing Justice for All, a New York coalition of over 80 organizations representing tenants and houseless New Yorkers, this kind of tenant activism hasn’t been seen since the 1970s and will hopefully continue to gain momentum in 2023.
Teresa Greene, 62, is a longtime tenant in the Stony Run apartment complex in Kingston and a tenant union committee member who helped advocate for the rent reduction. Greene says she began organizing during the summer in the hopes of resolving concerns with living conditions and high rents that have plagued the area. In particular, the neighborhood has been facing gentrification intensified by an exacerbated AirBnB market; between 2016 and 2020, the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Ulster County increased by nearly 50%.
“The issues that I was hearing about were mostly from elderly tenants who were being forced out of their apartments,” said Greene.
According to Greene, tenants were relocated due to problems with water damage and mold, and they were promised the same rent prices upon moving back in after renovations. However, after their leases were up, the rent prices increased, rendering many homeless. When Greene’s lease expired, she found that, instead of a fixed rate, her rent had increased. In response, Greene testified with the rent guidelines board, saying that if her rent continued to increase at the current exorbitant rate (11.6%) over the next three years, she would be paying $2,400 a month.
“That would render me homeless,” Greene said. “I knew there needed to be something to stabilize the increases … so we could make a sound decision of whether or not we’d be able to afford to stay or not.”
In November, the Rent Guidelines Board voted to reduce rent, but Kingston landlords sued the city and the board over the decision. A judge has temporarily blocked the reduction from taking effect, and a decision is not expected until early 2023. Only then will tenants know what the reduction percentage will be.
“We’re still in the battle with that,” Greene said. “We have a long way to go.”
According to organizers with Housing Justice for All, tenants are poised to push for “good cause eviction” protections in New York state, which would protect nearly all tenants in the state from gentrification, unreasonable rent hikes, and evictions.
“I’m sure that if it’s happening right here, in little USA, it’s happening all over in big USA,” said Greene. “I’d like to see rent stabilization, and the people who are rent stabilized to have healthy, clean places to live.”