Kingston, New York, says ‘roll back the rent!’
People in Kingston, New York, have had enough with rents going through the roof. So last November, the city’s Common Council voted to roll back rents on 1,200 apartments by 15%.
This is the first time any city has tried to enact a rent rollback. It followed Kingston becoming the first community in the Empire State outside New York City to establish rent control.
Some tenants wanted a 30% cut. They deserve at least that much.
Kingston is on the west shore of the Hudson River, 90 miles north of New York City. Between 2016 and 2020, rents in the city and surrounding Ulster County rose by 27%.
Since then, the median rent has climbed to $1,615 per month. (Median means that half the rents are above this figure and half are below.) Collecting this much rent in a town where the median annual income per person is just $32,000 is like squeezing blood from a stone.
IBM used to be the big employer in Kingston, with over 7,000 workers in 1985. The plant closed in the 1990s, and now, one out of five residents lives below the miserably low federal poverty level.
Landlords are furious about any limits to their greed. One of them, Rich Lanzarone, established the Hudson Valley Property Owners Association to fight the pro-tenant legislation.
The term “property owners association” was used decades ago across the United States by bigots fighting laws banning discrimination in housing.
Before ripping-off tenants, landlord leader Lanzarone built prisons while at Turner Construction. He doesn’t think rent hikes are “a big deal,” claiming his apartment dwellers drive Teslas and BMWs.
Judge David Gandin threw out the rent rollback on Feb. 10, but his decision will be appealed. The judge did uphold the rent control law.
Tenants and activists are going to continue to struggle. State Assembly member Sarahana Shrestha, Democratic Socialists of America, represents Kingston. Shrestha declared that the “fight isn’t over yet.”
Big landlords are organized crime
E&M Associates has been one of the biggest rent gougers in Kingston. Based in Brooklyn, N.Y., E&M had 3,000 apartments in New York City. Its properties are notorious for their high rent and poor maintenance.
At one building in El Barrio, also known as East Harlem, an E&M subsidiary evicted 15 low-income tenants and sued 250 others.
The outfit bought five apartment complexes in Kingston because the city had no rent control. One of E&M’s tenants was 52-year-old Amanda Treasure, who has been working since she was 14.
Working as a housekeeper, she spent more than half her $1,800 monthly salary to live at the Stony Brook complex. E&M jacked up Amanda’s rent by 18% while mold and water leaks were common.
That’s criminal. Behind E&M are the banksters that finance slumlords and collect much of their profits via interest payments.
Sewage backups became frequent at E&M’s 217-unit Sunset Gardens complex in Kingston. Last March, a dozen tenants had to be evacuated by the fire department because of a gas leak.
Local elected officials denounced E&M for driving tenants out of their apartments. The slumlord is taking the criticism in stride as it flipped its properties for a $28 million profit.
The rent hikes and abuses in Kingston are being repeated all over the United States. The median monthly rent reached $2,000 for the first time in May 2022.
That month the Austin, Texas, metropolitan area recorded a year-to-year average rent increase of 48%. Rents increased in Cincinnati, Nashville, and Seattle by 32%. The rent hikes in Miami reached 29%, while New York City had a 24% increase.
The rent must come down!
The average tenant is now forking over 30% of their income to the landlords. This is up from 22.5% in 1999.
That’s a 7.5% wage cut. Millions of families are paying even larger chunks of their income to landlords.
Many can’t pay and have to move in with other family members. Last March in New York City ― the capital of capitalism ― there was an average of 48,254 people sleeping in homeless shelters. Thousands more sleep on Gotham’s streets.
Combined with the huge increase in gas bills, these rent hikes can be life threatening, particularly to older folk. At least 3.5 million seniors couldn’t afford drug prescriptions in 2019.
One of the first acts of Cuba’s socialist revolution in 1959 was to roll back families’ combined rent and utility bills to no more than 10% of their income.
Like Cuba, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has suffered from U.S. economic sanctions. But unlike New York City, no one is homeless there. Venezuela has built over 4 million homes for people.
Poor and working people in Kingston, New York, are showing the way. We need to fight for big rent rollbacks across the United States.
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