Having heard a presentation on its recently conducted vacancy study, the Newburgh City Council is now planning to take action, by declaring a housing emergency and establishing a rent guidelines board.
“We want to move expeditiously on this particular matter because we know we’re in a housing crisis,” said Mayor Torrance Harvey at least week’s council work session.
The mayor’s remarks came at the conclusion of a presentation by Alexandra Church, Director of Planning & Development, and Michelle Kelson, the city’s Corporation Counsel.
“So this is one item, this is potentially one next step,” Church said, explaining the methodology and the results of the recently-conducted housing study that determined that less than five percent of available rental properties are vacant. “But this is not a panacea, this will not solve and no one here claims that this will solve all of the affordability issues in the city.”
Church said the city modeled its methodology based on the established practices of other communities that had undergone a similar study, specifically City of Kingston (which has done this twice), the City of Rochester and the Village of Ossining. The study, she added, considered housing accommodations that could be subject to the Emergency Tenant Protection Act (ETPA) regulations.
Church said data was collected through several mailings sent to eligible property owners and from data collected from the city’s water department.
“So the city of Newburgh has its own water department. It’s not an outside utility, so we have control of that data. We know it to be factual, and water data is very accurate to tell us whether someone is using the water or not using the water,” Church explained. “And because water is something that you absolutely need for your daily life to flush the toilets, things like that, it’s a very accurate follow -up check for us to see if a building or a unit is vacant or occupied.”
Church said there were 68 individual properties included in the survey that accounted for 738 housing units, 622 of those were occupied; 24 of those are not currently available for rent by the owner for various reasons, and 63 vacant due to construction. That all results in a a vacancy rate of 3.93%, putting the city below the 5 percent threshold and making it eligible under ETPA.
“Once you have completed your vacancy study, you have identified a threshold that is below the five percent level vacancy rate. The next step is you are then eligible to declare your housing emergency,” said Kelson.
Before it can make that declaration, however, the city council must hold a public hearing, giving the general public at least ten days notice. Since there wouldn’t be enough time to adequately advertise the hearing prior to the next meeting, scheduled for November 27, the council will hold the hearing at its December 11 meeting.
Once the housing emergency is declared, the clock is running on a very specific 30 day period within which the legislative body has to identify and recommend candidates to serve on a rent guidelines board. And those recommendations are made to the State Department of Community Housing Renewal, who ultimately makes the appointment and services that rental guidelines board.
Kelson said the board will be comprised of nine members, all city residents, five of which must be qualified in the areas of either housing, economics or finance. The four remaining spots would be reserved for people with a particular advocacy position, either for the tenants or the landlords.
“It’s been a long time coming, and once you get to this point, there’s a lot of pressure to do a lot of very important things very, very quickly, and we want to make sure that we put the council and the city in the best possible posture to make the best choices,” Kelson said, “choices that are supportable, defensible, and importantly in the city’s best interest.”
Council members plan to use the second work session in December - normally cancelled because of the holidays, to begin screening potential candidates for the rental guidelines board. All agreed this should be done sooner, rather than later.
“We’re a part of the emergency,” said Councilman Omari Shakur. “So thank you for the study. I’m ready to get to work on it and now we’ll go to the next phase because this is where we need to be at.”