While some are fleeing from New York City to Newburgh during the COVID-19 pandemic, those who have resided here for many years are facing their own housing crisis.
The City of Newburgh has brought in The Leviticus Fund, an organization who supports transformative solutions for low-income and vulnerable people to create sustainable and affordable communities, in partnership with Kevin Dwarka LLC and Pace Land Use Law Center, to hold a series of conversations on housing in Newburgh.
The purpose of the series was to study pathways to better meet Newburgh’s housing needs through changes in the City’s policies, programs and regulations.
The same concerns were brought to the table across all four of the meetings. Residents want more affordable housing, landlords to be held liable to fix the disconnect between landlords and tenants, easier access to home ownership, broader housing opportunities including co-ops and a holistic approach when finding solutions.
Around 20 people attended each of the last two ZOOM meetings of the series, which was led by Tiffany Zezula, the Deputy Director of Land Use Law Center at Pace. On the call was a mix of concerned residents, landlords and city officials.
The hour-long meetings were an open discussion between residents, giving them the opportunity to express their thoughts and brainstorm possible solutions.
“My main issue with Newburgh is there is not enough low income housing here,” said participant Deborah Danzy. “Working with outside contracts has not been good. Residents need to be more involved with any housing being put up.”
Landlords Brooke and Larry [unnamed last name] explained that they have seen a decline of qualified renters over the past few years.
“People are employed with reasonable, good quality local businesses and yet they do not make enough money to be a particularly safe rental prospect,” said Brooke.
Other participants on the call also described the connection between housing and employment.
“A lot of people work at Pizza Hut, the Mall, Woodbury Common … there’s no IBM or Morgan Stanley,” said attendee Quantel Bazemore. “I don’t see a chance of people breaking into the middle class. You need working class housing … decent housing that people can afford.”
Additionally, many participants were concerned about senior housing. One citizen explained how she is located at 35 Cerone Place which was a senior housing facility that was recently purchased and now it is no longer for seniors and the rent went up.
“We need better communication with seniors in housing developments and to assist them,” said Danzy.
Despite the meaningful three-part series, there is still a lot to consider for the future of Newburgh’s housing.
“How do we communicate this in a way that ensures it becomes a priority,” asked City Planner Elka Gotfryd. “It seems to me that all of this could have been anticipated. There were decisions made to not take preventative measures.”
Chair of the Human Rights Commission and Co-Chair of the Strategic Economic Development Committee, Genesis Ramos, was also on the call.
“There’s a disconnect between the way that city owned properties are sold and marketed and how that process has been explained to the community, hence creating exclusivity in that process,” said Ramos. “It doesn’t allow for folks to invest in ways that they can.”
The Human Rights Commission has actively been discussing ways to change and make the process more transparent and equitable for the community.
Councilwoman Karen Meija, who was also on the call, suggested that Newburgh create more tenant associations here in Newburgh.
Newburgh’s Community Voices Heard has started to spearhead some of that.
Other concerns were brought up regarding unfair treatment by landlords to undocumented residents and the lack of communication between landlords and tenants.