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Poughkeepsie city council gears up for vote on rent control

The Poughkeepsie Common Council is expected to vote Tuesday on whether to opt into rent control under New York’s Emergency Tenant Protection Act.

A housing study commissioned by the city last year found the vacancy rate for apartment buildings built before 1974 was under the state’s 5 percent threshold, allowing Poughkeepsie to declare a housing emergency and regulate rents for those units. After a public hearing last month, Councilmember-at-Large Da’Ron Wilson tells WAMC the Democrat-controlled council is likely to pass the resolution.

"I myself grew up as a renter, myself," says Wilson. "So, I know the plight of people in Poughkeepsie."

If the law is passed, the city would next need to establish a Rent Guidelines Board. Poughkeepsie would become the third major city in the region to opt into rent control, behind Kingston and Newburgh.

Wilson says a little more than 100 units would be impacted by the law, equating to about 13 percent of Poughkeepsie renters. Linda Bartee, a retired cook and member of the advocacy group Community Voices Heard, is one of them. Bartee says she has been living at the same one-bedroom apartment on Garden Street for roughly 13 years. When she first moved in, she says her rent was a little over $500. Now, it’s pushing $1,500.

"With the cost of everything else going up, and inflation, it’s very difficult to budget," says Bartee. "You have to have some place to live. You have to have food to eat, you have to keep your lights on and whatnot. So, it makes it a very rocky road."

Roughly one in three renters in Poughkeepsie spends more than half of their income on housing, according to a Housing Needs Assessment conducted in 2022.

That said, efforts to pass rent control in other cities have met with fierce pushback and lawsuits from landlords’ groups, like the Hudson Valley Property Owners Association. Executive Director Richard Lanzarone says, if you want to know how effective the ETPA is, take a look at New York City, where the average rent (across all property types) is roughly $3,600, according to Zillow's latest rental data.

Lanzarone says the key to solving the state’s housing crisis is building more units, not regulating them.

"This is gonna cause private developers to run, not walk, away from Poughkeepsie," he warns.

The HVPOA has also challenged the method and numbers used in cities’ vacancy studies. A state judge upheld Kingston’s vacancy study in March and supported its decision to reduce rent by 15 percent — the first government-mandated rent cut in American history. But in April, the state Supreme Court struck down Newburgh’s rent control law, saying its study failed to account for some vacancies.

The Poughkeepsie study, conducted by the Collective for Community, Culture, and Environment, initially determined a vacancy rate of 3.96 percent. Vacancy numbers listed in the agenda packet for Tuesday's meeting say 4.03 percent. Lanzarone says the HVPOA conducted its own audit of the study’s source documents, and he believes the vacancy rate to be closer to 8 percent. If rent control passes, he expects a lawsuit.

"100 percent," he adds. "The fact pattern here is almost exactly the same as it was in Newburgh. Of course, anything can happen in court, but this will be challenged, and it’s not likely to be upheld."

Wilson says he’s aware of opposition to rent control, but he believes it has the support of the common council to pass. Looking forward, he says the council plans to host a public hearing on good-cause eviction next month, but for now, it’s one meeting at a time.

"Any small gesture to assist and aid any people trying to come up and survive in today’s society, I think that’s what we’re striving to do in the best interest of everybody," says Wilson.

Tuesday's common council meeting is scheduled to start at 6:30.

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