Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan Introduces New Fair Housing Legislation | WAMC

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan Introduces New Fair Housing Legislation

Mar 23, 2021

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan has unveiled what some are calling "historic" fair housing legislation.

Sheehan, a Democrat running for a third term, says she wants the city of Albany to have the power to be more proactive when it comes to preventing urban blight. The legislation could spell the end of the so-called "Red X" properties that dot the city.

A "red X" house on Ontario Street, a block and a half away from New Scotland Avenue, Albany.
Credit Dave Lucas / WAMC

Under the new law, the Buildings Department can intervene and make repairs rather than declare a structure unsafe, displacing the residents. The owner would be billed for the cost of repairs.

Sheehan says the measure also would make it harder for landlords to evict tenants: there would have to be a "good cause." And when new construction brings new money into a neighborhood, the mayor says existing tenants won't fear being forced out by higher rents.

“Being a community of choice means that you have to have housing options that are available at all levels," Sheehan said. "And we need to have affordability at the forefront of what it is that we are seeking to do. And that affordability is tied into affordability to rehabilitate and to maintain good quality housing in the city of Albany. And many, many landlords do the right thing. They treat their tenants with dignity and respect. They reinvest in their properties. They follow the city's rules that are designed to keep property safe. And, you know, make sure that people are living in safe environments. But there are some that don't do that. There are some that make choices that lead to disrepair to blight, and to a housing crisis. For some of our most historically underserved residents.”

Seventh Ward Common Councilor Cathy Fahey says the law would modernize the city’s Rental Dwelling Registry and includes changes involving Residential Occupancy Permit Updates, in the interest of preserving and strengthening neighborhoods.

“Every single person who lives in the city of Albany deserves to live in decent housing," Fahey said. "There is not one council member who doesn't support that. And I should say as a council member and my fellow council members here, we hear plenty when that is not the case. Whether it's when we go door to door, we walk up, you know, you can see right from the front of the house that this is a poorly poorly kept property. Yes, yes, yes, we have landlords who do an excellent job, but it is those bad actors that we really want to address and change the way business is done.”

Credit Dave Lucas / WAMC

“This is good legislation that's going to hold individuals accountable," said 11th ward Councilor Alfredo Balarin. "If you want to invest in our city, great, we welcome you. But you're going to do it in a way where you respect our communities. You respect the talent that you serve, and you respect the property owners and your neighbors.”

Common Council President Corey Ellis expects the law will proceed swiftly through the council.

"Once it gets introduced at the next caucus and council meeting then we'll have committee meetings on these local laws, and like any local law it has to age. But I think we can move on this legislation pretty quickly before this council's session ends this year."

The officials spoke Tuesday.