CATSKILL — Community members discussed rent control, short-term rentals, home ownership and more at a virtual meeting.
Research conducted by the Hudson/Catskill Housing Coalition showed that of the 1,519 Catskill residents surveyed, 365 face eviction or foreclosure.
The waiting list for Hop-o-Nose numbers 82, Catskill Mountain Housing’s waiting list for senior and disabled housing is two years and RUPCO has 605 applications, according to the Coalition.
The village’s comprehensive plan reports that between 2010 and 2017, there was a 27.5% increase in residents falling below the poverty line.
Courtney Parish, of Homestead Funding Corp., and Columbia Greene Northern Dutchess Multiple Listing Service President Angela Lanuto kicked off the meeting by discussing the current real-estate market and obstacles that first-time homeowners face.
The local housing market has been in a steady upswing for the past few years, Lanuto said.
“We’ve seen a significant increase in people wanting to come up into our area,” she said. “Not only weekenders but part-time homeowners that have become full-time homeowners.”
The increase in demand and low inventory is driving prices up, Lanuto said.
COVID-related changes to the workplace are a factor in people relocating, as working from home becomes more feasible, she said.
“[Buyers] can come into other markets where they always wanted to be,” she said.
The increase influx of buyers can cause locals to be outbid, Parish said.
“Prices are going up, people are paying over asking price, cash, 30-40% down,” Parish said. “Our locals are not able to compete with that. That’s something that really bothers me. Our local people, they need housing, too.”
Homestead Funding has multiple loan options for prospective home buyers, Parish said.
“There are tons of options for people,” she said. “You don’t have to have that 20% down. You don’t have to have stellar credit. If somebody has a 620 credit score, they can get a home.”
Parish typically averages about $4 million in lending per month, she said. The last four months she has been averaging $11 million to $13 million, she said, adding that the increase is due to the pandemic and the people trying to leave the city.
Hudson Common Council 2nd Ward Alderwoman Tiffany Garriga questioned how home ownership related to keeping rent affordable.
“[My goal] is to bring resources to this meeting and to your ears,” Village President Vincent Seeley said. “There are tools out there that will allow no down payment, even if you have bad credit. I would love to see people get out of rentals, to be honest with you.”
Garriga countered that Seeley’s aspirations for the community may not be the most realistic.
“That’s a beautiful thing that you want,” she said. “But 51% of your people are renters and they want to know what they’re renting is being accommodated in a way that they can live with their children. Not everyone can be a homeowner and not everyone wants that option. Let’s not forget about the responsibility that you have at Hop-o-Nose. While you’re looking out for people to become a homeowner, what are you doing for people that are renters?”
Seeley said the village is trying to keep rent affordable in the area and then provided Garriga with scenarios about how much a homeowner invests in a property, arguing that the owner needs to make a profit in order to maintain the property.
“The rentals, definitely, we need to get the quality up and the rent down,” Seeley said.
Dylan Reagh, an intern with the Housing Coalition, was also critical of the approach.
“Your own comments categorize rental control as anti-competitive and damaging to the real-estate market,” Reagh said. “There’s no automatic reason that market logic should dominate public policy. Especially given that we have a serious housing situation happening right now, unemployment is incredibly high all over country, a lot of people are really struggling to pay rent. You yourself said we need to get the rental crisis down. I know it’s not easy to do but I think it’s pretty clear rent control is the most obvious solution to stabilizing rent for a lot of people who don’t have housing security.”
Reagh encouraged Seeley and the board to consider the interests of Catskill residents.
“You should be looking out for people who already live in Catskill instead of worrying about the market situation,” he said. “I think there’s a problem fundamentally that the discourse is revolving around the interest of private investors.”
Reagh criticized Seeley’s choice of guest speakers.
“These first two people you had were a real-estate broker and a lender who have a financial interest in the government taking a step back and not actively protecting renters,” he said. “It seems people who have a financial interest are being given precedence. Even in your own theoretical argument, the investor is being given preference. There has to be more consideration of all the people who cannot pay their rent or are struggling to pay their rent.”
Rent prices do not necessarily reflect the quality of the building, Reagh said.
“I’m a renter and I can tell you from experience my landlord is not reinvesting my rent into my house,” he said. “The quality is terrible. Rent is not being paid for the benefit of the tenant. Rent is being paid because the owner has control over the house.”
Seeley questioned if Reagh was suggesting the village use taxpayer money to create a housing complex.
“It’s one thing to say it would be difficult to implement rent control,” Reagh said. “It’s another thing to dismiss it entirely.”
Resident Gary Burns echoed similar remarks.
“We’ve got a population half of which are renters and I think it is nice, this good old-fashioned dream of having a home and a lawn that you mow, but we’re in a climate crisis and that’s not feasible for every person,” he said. “We need to come up with a more dynamic way to accommodate people that are deciding to live here.”
United Tenants of Albany Executive Director Laura Phelps proposed a few options for the board to consider.
The Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act would grant tenants the right of refusal should their building go up for sale, Phelps said. Tenants would have the first right to finance and purchase that, before another buyer could outbid them.
The Emergency Tenant Protection Act, which is being looked at in Albany, Rochester and Ossining, Phelps said, would establish rent control for buildings built on or before 1974 with six or more units. A rental guidelines board would determine what a fair rental increase would be, typically 1-3% per year, Phelps said.
Through this legislation, tenants have a right to a lease renewal, which would eliminate no cause evictions, she said.
“For your area to get [this legislation], the [village] board would have to commission a vacancy survey,” she said. Depending on the results of the survey, the board could then declare a rental emergency — meaning rentals are low and rents are high.
Isabella Lee, with the Housing Coalition, encouraged the board to examine the effect their decisions could have on the community.
“Ask yourselves what kind of community you’re going to create by not dealing with the mass displacement, which is on the horizon, and the homogeneity that these raises in rent look like, the catering to outside investors and people buying second homes over residents that have lived here, often generations,” she said. “Really ask yourselves what kind of community that’s going to look like. We’re in the middle of an unprecedented economic crisis and it’s quite strange to not hear the urgency in that expressed by the representatives.”
Hudson/Catskill Housing Coalition Program Director Molly Stinchfield asked the board to consider the needs of tenants.
“You’re asking us to consider the investment of the homeowner and I’m asking the village board to consider the renters who are paying off the owner’s mortgage with zero return on investment. We have to prioritize low- and middle-income housing. If we don’t, the state of Catskill will shift so dramatically.”
Another issue that depletes available housing is short-term rentals. Greene County hosted 67,500 Airbnb guests in 2019. The county had a population of 47,188, according to census estimates.
Liam Singer, owner of Avalon Lounge and Hi-Lo Cafe, proposed a number of different options for regulating short-term rentals, such as including them in the village’s definition of hotels and thus subjecting them to the same type of zoning laws; having restrictions on non-owner occupied rentals; or implementing a permitting system. Permits could potentially require at least part-time residence in Catskill, or be limited to one per person, Singer said.
The village of Athens passed a local law in June requiring short-term rental owners to register their properties.
Planning board member Gil Bagnet agreed that this needs to be examined.
“Ten years ago there weren’t Airbnbs and that’s why we don’t have laws,” he said. “Now that they exist, we need to regulate them.”
The town planning board is holding a meeting Aug. 31 at the Robert Antonelli Senior Center to review proposed amendments to the village’s zoning law, in light of the new comprehensive plan that was adopted in February. Short-term rentals will be part of the discussion, Planning Board Chairman Patrick McCulloch said.
Seeley estimated the village has property available to construct about 200 living units, citing a parcel behind Price Chopper with 77 subdivisions, Forlini’s motel on West Main Street and the former St. Patrick’s Academy on Woodland Avenue as examples.
A 10-unit apartment complex has been proposed for St. Patrick’s. Because the property is not zoned for multiple dwellings, property owner Dennis Frascello can ask the village board to rezone the property or go to the zoning board of appeals seeking a variance, McCulloch said.
The Catskill Gardens project, a 90-unit complex for West Main Street, would have featured one floor for residents with mental health issues, staffed 24/7 by crisis management staff and the other two floors would have offered affordable housing where tenants paid one-third of their income, Stinchfield said.
“[The Mental Health Association] lost grant funding as a result of the waterfront moratorium,” Stinchfield said.
The moratorium, which went into effect in September 2018 and expires in November, put a halt on new construction along the river from the Uncle Sam Bridge to The Historic Catskill Point.