High rents slam door on decent low-income housing

HUDSON–Rent and property tax increases, income too low to meet these costs but too high for assistance, frequent moving, and apartments kept mostly empty repeatedly came up at the Youth Housing Forum with Congressman Antonio Delgado (D-19th) September 7 at the Hudson Area Library.

Mr. Delgado sat between two 15-year-olds: Mia Justiniano and Dezjuan Smith. People of all ages crowded the library.

Mia told how she had lived in Hudson Terrace, a low-income development, with her mother all her life until she was 12, when they were evicted because of their service dogs. Before eviction, her mother had lived there 14 years. In the three years since, the family has alternated between Mia’s grandmother’s home on Glenwood Blvd. in Hudson and the Joslen Motor Lodge in Greenport. They had to get rid of their dogs. They have to pay the motel cost on their own, because Mia’s mother earns too much working at a Hudson clothing store to qualify for housing assistance. To afford a one-bedroom unit in the motel, they sometimes have to take in a roommate. “All this does not make me feel loved by my government,” Mia said. And if certain laws to protect tenants had been in place three years ago, “I would still have a home.”

It is hard to uphold one’s educational goals, “if you don’t know where you’re going to stay” for the night or even what town you will sleep in, said Dezjuan Smith.

“This year my mother couldn’t afford to buy me school clothes and school supplies,” said a girl. “So she told me to get a job. I’m still struggling to pay the rent.”

“This event spreads awareness of people pushed out of their homes by gentrification and landlords,” said Dezjuan.

A woman in the audience reported that when she ran a survey intended for adults, children asked to fill it out too, and their answers showed that “they had the same concerns as adults.” Examples include plumbing, food and rent. But “children should not have adult concerns,” the woman said.

Many of “the youth I serve…have housing issues, though many don’t want to talk about it,” said Nick Zachos, director of Hudson’s Youth Department. “I watch families displaced by the week. They’re moving to North Carolina, Florida, Albany. They’re moving to Philmont, where services and food and access to food aren’t good. We have to look at this as a crisis.”

“I want to challenge the concept that because we live in a capitalist society, if somebody wants to buy, you have to sell,” Mr. Zachos added.

Adults at the forum had similar stories.

“I never had a stable home,” said a woman. She moved “back and forth” between Hudson, North Carolina and Brooklyn, she said. “It’s hard to find a home in Schuyler Court, Hudson Terrace, and Bliss,” she said, referring to three low-income housing complexes in Hudson.

Pamela Badila of Hudson spoke of someone who “had to move twice, because the rent got unaffordable. People who have lived in Hudson for generations can’t afford to live here anymore.”

Kimberly Irwin said she grew up in Hudson on the 200 block of Columbia Street. “It was real good.” Children played kickball in the street, and “we used not to have to lock our door.” But “we lost the home because of taxes.”

A woman suggested a “grandfather clause” to provide tax relief for families who have lived in the same home for generations.

Reverend Edward Cross of Hudson asked, “When they increase the rent, where is the money going to come from; where is the income going to come from? “

Sharese Johnson, 26, the After School Coordinator for Kite’s Nest, said she grew up in Schuyler Court and Hudson Terrace. After graduating from the University of Albany, she looked for an apartment in Hudson, “where everything is walkable.” But with rents for a one-bedroom apartment there ranging from $1,200 to $1,600, she tried Stockport instead. However, “in Stockport there’s no transportation,” and she works in Hudson. So now she is living back in Hudson, with her mother, while wishing for “a place of my own.”

“We need affordable housing for working people,” said Janet Miller, whose family has lived in Hudson for three generations. Last year, the doctor ordered her to stop climbing stairs. “But I’m still doing stairs, because I can’t find a ground floor apartment.” She works in Albany, and “they say I’m middle class.”

A woman said she was once homeless for eight months with five children.

Politicians do not help, said another woman. They “go over this time after time. I’m supporting a daughter. Are you going to reduce my rent from $1,700 to $900?”

“We walk up and down Warren Street, and we see empty apartments. I don’t know what you’re waiting for. There are people who need a place to stay,” said Reverend Cross.

“So many houses are dedicated to Airbnb’s,” said a woman. “That takes up room. Hudson is catering to tourists rather than people who work here.”

“Airbnb allows folks to own a building, rent it out for how much they want to for a few days, and keep it vacant for most of the time,” said Mr. Delgado. “We in government don’t have a single restriction on Airbnb.”

Bill Fisher, the Hudson fair housing officer, said, “I receive many calls about evictions, non-renewal of lease, and warranties of habitability. Landlords have a responsibility to maintain buildings.” If they do not, there are ways to help,” including Legal Aid. “Any complaints I get go before the Housing Advisory Board,” he said.

“The fastest growing class of people in our country is the working poor people,” Mr. Delgado noted. Issues he said he wants to “flag” include: The gap between the highest income allowed for housing assistance and the lowest income needed to afford housing comfortably; the fact that powerful people in the federal government “don’t want to help”; and Airbnb.

Though Congress decides how much money the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) gets and how it can spend it, “the money going to HUD for housing is still going down. The money is instead going to other areas. Other areas are special interests and corporate interests.”

“I benefited from a different time,” Mr. Delgado continued. His parents worked for General Electric in Schenectady. The family moved from apartment to apartment several times, but when Mr. Delgado was a freshman in high school, they finally could afford their own house. “People can’t do it today.”

As the meeting broke up, a woman was observed telling Reverend Cross, “They want people to stay dependent and oppressed.”

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