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Kingston opts into "good cause" eviction, passes ceasefire resolution in tense council session

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Kingston has become the second city in upstate New York to opt into the state’s new “good cause” eviction law, during a jam-packed council session Tuesday that also weighed in on the Israel-Hamas war.

New York’s “good cause” eviction law, passed in the latest state budget, allows upstate communities to opt in to restrictions on landlords, preventing them from evicting certain tenants without legitimate cause and from and from making predatory rent hikes. Albany was the first city to opt in in June. The Kingston Common Council opted in with a unanimous 9-0 vote, following a tense public comment period that stretched over three hours.

Kingston resident and community organizer Callie Jane says she owns a home now, but back when she was renting in Kingston, she was forced to move multiple times with little notice.

“One time a landlord decided that me asking for a year-long leak through a light fixture to be fixed was a reason not to renew my lease," says Jane. "And throughout my renting journey, my oldest child has switched schools so many times in the middle of the year, with multiple kindergartens, first grades, third grades, fourth grades. We lost security deposits and paid to move again and again. And we had no neighbors that we knew, and we had no community.”

"Good cause” eviction applies to a larger share of tenants than Kingston’s rent stabilization law, which only applies to certain apartments built before 1974, under New York’s Emergency Tenant Protection Act. In contrast, Kingston’s “good cause” eviction law applies to all tenants in buildings built before 2009 who pay less than 300 percent of the fair market rent. There are still some exemptions, including: landlords with only one rental unit, owner-occupied buildings with less than 11 units, co-ops, condos, and rent-controlled housing.

Kingston first passed “good cause” eviction in 2022, but it repealed its law last year after similar laws in other cities, like Newburgh, were struck down in court. Rich Lanzarone, executive director of the Hudson Valley Property Owners Association, which has opposed issues like rent control in cities across the region, says any regulation of the rental market discourages housing development, which he views as key to solving the state’s housing crisis.

“If New York state would actually just scrap all of this rent regulation, in five years the rental housing problem would disappear, because there would be a tsunami of development that would actually result in oversupply and drive prices down," he argues.

The law still needs to be signed by Democratic Mayor Steve Noble.

Many of Tuesday’s speakers were there for another resolution, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Multiple Hudson Valley communities have passed ceasefire resolutions, including Newburgh and Poughkeepsie. A previous attempt in Kingston fizzled over the winter, but a new resolution made it out of committee last week. The updated document calls on state and federal leaders to expand humanitarian aid and “end unrestrictive, offensive military funding” without mentioning the Israeli Defense Forces by name.

Howard Vichinsky, president of Congregation Agudas Achim in Kingston, says he appreciates the toned-down language of the updated resolution, but he still worries any resolution could fuel animosity toward the local Jewish community. He wonders why the council isn’t taking up resolutions on other foreign conflicts, like Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“My congregation feels pointed out. Why us? We have a history that makes us suspicious and fearful," says Vichinsky. "I’m sorry, I feel it’s not [the council's] intention, but there are people who do not want us to succeed, who do not want Israel to exist, and that’s what this is about.”

Kingston resident Rose Quinn, meanwhile, says she primarily views the resolution as an inward reflection.

“I believe that when I speak out about this I am not speaking out against Israel," she explains. "I am not speaking out about any other country. I am actually pointing this directly at our country, because I am saying, ‘We can no longer subsidize death and warfare.’”

The resolution passed 7-2, with Fourth Ward Alderwoman Jeanne Edwards and Eighth Ward Alderman Steven Schabot voting “no." Edwards says the council should be focusing its efforts closer to home.

“All this beautiful energy that I’m seeing, feeling and understanding — why isn’t this put toward mental health in our country? Why do we have homeless right here in Kingston?" she asks. "And we stand here worrying about foreign affairs. Yes, we do have a voice with foreign affairs. But do you really believe, in your heart, that they’re going to listen to Kingston, New York? As you have — right up the street — someone sleeping on a bench tonight?”

A copy of the resolution now heads to President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Congressman Pat Ryan, and others.

Online comments were not allowed at Tuesday’s hybrid meeting, after an incident during the June common council meeting in which multiple Zoom participants voiced either Islamophobic tropes or antisemitic statements with Nazi sympathies. Common Council President Andrea Shaut says the council is weighing new practices for hybrid meetings going forward.

Jesse King is the host of WAMC's national program on women's issues, "51%," and the station's bureau chief in the Hudson Valley. She has also produced episodes of the WAMC podcast "A New York Minute In History."