Housing Deal NO Vote

Why Sarahana voted No on one of the 10 budget bills this year

The state budget is a set of 10 bills, of which 5 have money allocations and the other 5 have policies. Of the five policy bills, one is referred to as the “big ugly” because it’s packed with both bad and good policies.

Sarahana voted No on the big-ugly bill this year because it contains a housing deal that:

  • Rolls back some of the 2019 tenant protections
  • Leaves upstate tenants out of new protections
  • Fails to fund much-needed vouchers to move people from motels to stable housing

Sarahana was publicly asked to do so by 7 of the 9 Kingston Common Council Members and tenant advocacy groups. Democratic Senator Skoufis, who endorsed Sarahana’s opponent, also voted No on the same bill, as did a few other Democratic legislators.

However, many things Sarahana fought for made it into the housing deal, including giving municipalities like the City of Kingston the authority to strengthen Good Cause Eviction protections when opting in. The City of Albany already used that provision to pass the strongest version possible.

Below is the press release Sarahana put out at the time:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 21, 2024

Assemblymember Shrestha votes no on housing deal that does little for Hudson Valley

Ulster County Executive Metzger shares disappointment in lack of voucher funding in the deal

ALBANY, NY: The State legislature passed the much awaited housing deal as part of a budget bill yesterday. The negotiation on housing was a key reason for the delay in this year’s budget, with the Governor sternly on the side of boosting supply, and the legislature committed to passing a comprehensive package that includes tenant protections. Involved in those negotiations was the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), a large lobbying organization that represents some of New York City’s biggest and richest property owners. Citing how little the deal does for the Hudson Valley, despite major giveaways to New York City developers, Shrestha voted No on the deal. Seven Kingston Common Council members and several tenant advocacy groups had publicly urged her and others to do so.

As indicated by the leaders of both legislative chambers when the session ended without a housing package last year, central to the negotiations was passing Good Cause Eviction, a bill that protects tenants from price-gouging and unfair evictions by giving them the right to renew their lease unless the landlord has one of the six good causes for eviction as outlined in the bill, including nonpayment and nuisance; and requires the landlord to justify a rent increase beyond a certain point in court. These protections in effect give the tenant the ability to negotiate the terms of lease renewal or ask for repairs without fear of retaliation. The version of the bill that passed through the budget yesterday is significantly weaker, and leaves out thousands of upstate tenants.

Another protection measure the legislature sought to pass in the budget but the Governor rejected was funding a voucher program to deal with the crisis in emergency housing, such as the one we’re experiencing in Ulster County.

Following is AM Shrestha’s statement:

“In the Town of Ulster, where there are 1,667 occupied rentals, 44% of tenants are rent-burdened, meaning they pay more than 30% of their income in rent. In Saugerties, it’s 52.9% of tenants living across 2,555 occupied rentals, and in Esopus it’s 54% of tenants living across 684 occupied rentals. These tenants aren’t going to see the benefits of the Good Cause law we just passed in the budget because it requires municipalities outside New York City to opt-in, and these are three of the towns in my district that are unlikely to opt-in. It’s one of the many examples in which this deal, packed with giveaways to the real estate industry, especially REBNY, does very little for the Hudson Valley, where nearly 55% of the tenants are rent-burdened and housing costs are ever-increasing.

Further exemptions leave more of my constituents without protections from unreasonable rent hikes: buildings built in 2009 or later are exempt for thirty years since the time of their construction, which leaves out more than 16,961 units in our district. And because the new version exempts units based on the landlord’s portfolio size rather than the number of units in a building, lack of transparency in LLCs and other loopholes can result in many tenants not being able to use the protections, especially without the help of a lawyer. The original bill was designed to be a tool tenants can use to negotiate a lease renewal or fight eviction without having to necessarily go to court, therefore helping to decrease the number of eviction cases, but the new version is written to be primarily enforced in an already overwhelmed housing court, and it was passed without any new funding for legal services to support the law. It’s frustrating to regularly see protections for our constituents get turned into bureaucratic mazes that are difficult to navigate.

We’re often told in this line of work to not let the perfect become the enemy of the good, but in reality we’re always making compromises that leave little trace of what used to be good. The Governor, with the real estate industry at her side, has chipped away at Good Cause Eviction to such an extent that it can no longer do many of the things it was intended to do. However, it’s worth noting that without last minute changes we were able to push through the Assembly, the deal for upstate was going to be much worse. Smaller localities like Tivoli and the Village of Saugerties were going to be denied the choice of opting in altogether, and localities were not going to be able to modify the number of units in the portfolio size exemption, which they can do in the final version we passed. My office will be focusing on providing support and legislative briefings to the localities in our district so that as many as possible can opt-in. And we’ll also be serving as a resource to tenants so that we can reap maximum benefits from what we were able to pass. It breaks my heart to think of those we’re leaving behind.

Another failure of this deal is the absence of the Housing Access Voucher Program, which the legislature pushed for but the Governor rejected. A $250 million investment would have helped localities like Ulster County address the crisis in emergency housing by providing rental assistance to move people from motels to stable housing close to their jobs and families. We’re always in an uproar about public safety but we’re unwilling to take the most basic steps to alleviate crises at the ground level.”

Ulster County Executive Jen Metzger shared Shrestha’s disappointment in lack of voucher funding in the housing deal: “I am disappointed that the $250 million Housing Access Voucher Program proposed by both the Senate and Assembly did not make it into the final budget. In Ulster County, we have an unprecedented number of families whose lives have been upended by the housing affordability crisis, living in emergency housing—typically motel rooms—for as much as two years or more, often far from where their children attend school. The Housing Access Voucher Program would have helped them afford a permanent home and would have helped other individuals and families who are at risk of losing their homes. Expanding the supply of affordable housing is a critical solution to the housing crisis, but it is one that takes time and our residents who are unhoused or in danger of losing their homes need help now.”

 

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