Tenants and landlords clash at council meeting

By Alberto Gilman
Posted 12/13/23

Tenants and landlords alike, advocacy groups and other concerned citizens converged on the City of Newburgh Activity Center Monday, December 11 to voice their concerns and opinions on rent control, …

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Tenants and landlords clash at council meeting


Tenants and landlords alike, advocacy groups and other concerned citizens converged on the City of Newburgh Activity Center Monday, December 11 to voice their concerns and opinions on rent control, the potential passage of Emergency Tenant Protection Act legislation and address the overall housing emergency in the city.

The public hearing follows the release of the City of Newburgh’s Rental Vacancy Study back in November which found a 3.93 percent vacancy rate for eligible city properties. Under the Emergency Tenant Protection Act of 1974, because this number is less than five percent, the City of Newburgh can move to declare a housing emergency and opt into rent stabilization.

If the law were passed by city council, landlords of 68 eligible properties across Newburgh (738 units) would temporarily be barred from raising rents or evicting tenants without good cause. The New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal would then assist in creating a Rent Guidelines Board to vote on annual rent adjustments.

Once the emergency is declared, the city council would have 30 days to recommend and identify candidates for a rent guidelines board that would be reviewed by the state. The rent guidelines board would be composed of nine members, all city residents. Five of these board members must be qualified in the areas of either housing, economics or finance, while the remaining four would be reserved for people with a particular advocacy position, either for city tenants or landlords.

Tensions were high the entire night but no votes were cast by the city council Monday. The vote on the law would need to occur at a follow up meeting.

“We’re here to receive comments from the public concerning the existence of a public emergency, requiring the regulation of certain specific residential rents in the City of Newburgh,” said Mayor Torrance Harvey.

City Corporation Counsel Michelle Kelson provided an understanding of the purpose of the public hearing and noted to the public that a meeting, following study and comment reviews, would be expected to be conducted next week (December 18-22).

“The purpose of tonight’s public hearing is to receive comments from the public on the existence of a public housing emergency in the City of Newburgh. The Emergency Tenant Protection Act was expanded in 2019 to expand rent regulation above, outside of the five boroughs of New York City, Rockland and Westchester County to all of New York State,” she said. “Tonight’s public hearing is for all of you to provide your comments on the existence of the public emergency with respect to housing accommodations.”

For over two and a half hours, city residents came before city council either in support of or against the matter

“Rent control needs to be brought into place. We have to stop selling these properties to all these big businesses from Brooklyn,” said Corey Allen. “You guys [city council] represent the folks here, you don’t represent the investors.”

“I have some observations based on my understanding of the study language. The study seems to have undertaken the study on its own as some may find city officials to be biased towards its finding. It may have been better to hire a third party to do the study, or to just hire an outside auditor to determine that the methodology was appropriate and confirm the results,” said Michael Lebron.

“I’m here today, because housing is a human right that no one should ever go without. Today, we are here to discuss with the City Council to declare a housing emergency that’s opting us into the emergency tenant protection act,” said Rene Mejia. “For some tonight, it’s about protecting their investments and pocketbooks but for others, it’s a fight for security. It’s a fight for safety, warmth and basic human decency.”

“We did a detailed examination and audit of the city vacancy study dated November 6, that shows that the actual vacancy rate during the survey period is 6.35%. The Planning Department made a number of mistakes, resulting in the misreporting of the actual vacancy rate,” said Rich Lanzarone, Executive Director of the Hudson Valley Property Owners Association. “Bottom line. The survey is reduced to 661 units. There are 42 vacancies. When you do the math, it’s 6.35% vacancy rate.”

Harvey addressed Lanzarone’s study later on in the meeting. “We’ve heard it, we’re gonna look through his stuff. Council will assess and synthesize and figure out if his study has any merit,” he said.

“I don’t want us to lose what’s really the issue and it’s not so much the study or not study, it’s the fact that people are being priced out of their homes that they have made for several years or decades,” said Gabrielle Burton-Hill.

The youngest person to testify that night was 11-year-old Erick Rivera Quintero holding a sign that said “Freeze the Rent”. His family’s rent currently is $2,500 a month. “Right now my family works for three jobs at a bank cleaning and my dad works for three jobs, same thing as my mom [who was in the audience]. She’s always working,” he said. “Everybody has increases.”

The vacancy study is currently available on the city website for public review.