SCHENECTADY — A town hall style meeting designed to give residents an opportunity to weigh in on issues relating to housing that has been months in the making is finally set to take place Thursday.
City Councilman Carl Williams, the event’s main organizer, said the forum is an opportunity for lawmakers to hear from residents on both sides of the issue before drafting any potential legislation relating to housing in the months ahead.
“The framework of the agenda that is being finalized is that it’s more of an open forum that we are hearing from the community,” he said. “Hearing and listening; observing and listening — that way we can take all of this knowledge and then start to cultivate what the solution looks like.”
Thursday’s forum will take place at the Boys & Girls Club from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. There will be a time limit for all speakers in order to ensure as many residents are heard from as possible. Residents can also submit comment through email or the city’s website, Williams said.
The meeting, which was postponed from October, comes amid rising rent costs at a time when the cost of living has risen sharply due to inflation, which has forced some residents to abandon properties they have long called home in search of more affordable alternatives, which have become more scarce to find, prompting concerns about a housing crisis.
A recent study published by the real estate research firm CoStar Group determined that rent in Schenectady County has increased by 9.8% since 2019, bringing the average monthly rent to $1,302.
In a 2020 report released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that a $100 increase in median rent was associated with a 9% increase in homelessness, even when other factors, including wages, unemployment and poverty were factored in.
In July, Councilman Damonni Farley brought concerns about rising rent costs to the full City Council after hearing from numerous residents he said have been forced to vacate their homes due to increased rent.
Lawmakers briefly discussed adopting some type of rent stabilization measure but ultimately decided to schedule a town hall in hopes of collecting additional feedback.
But it’s unclear what steps, if any, lawmakers can take to curtail rent costs.
In 2019, state lawmakers approved the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act that allows rent stabilization protections to be extended for certain housing in municipalities with a housing vacancy rate of 5% or less.
The city would be required to complete a vacancy study on its housing stock. If the study determines that vacancy rates if 5% or less, the city can declare a housing emergency and pass a local law allowing the protections to be adopted. From there, a rent guidelines board would need to be established, which would determine what percentage landlords would be able to increase rent.
But the law only applies to buildings with six or more living units constructed prior to 1974, which reduces the number of units that would be eligible for rent stabilization.
Farley, on Tuesday, said he has been researching the issue, but noted that it’s important for the City Council to hear from all residents before taking any additional steps. He’s hoping that the meeting will afford residents the opportunity to learning from each other and give lawmakers the guidance needed to tackle any issues relating to housing moving forward.
“I think before we start to be kind of prescriptive about what needs to happen we really want to provide ample opportunity to hear from people,” he said.
But Chris Morris, president of the group Schenectady Landlords Influencing Change, said that landlords face their own struggles that are often overlooked, and fears that the city is seeking to adopt rent stabilization measures moving forward.
Rent, Morris said, is one of the biggest issues landlords face, and rent stabilization is a top concern.
She pointed to a moratorium on evictions implemented during the height of the pandemic in 2020 as an example of landlords losing their rights. In recent months, SLIC has also advocated for lawmakers’ help in addressing tenants who intentionally damage property.
Morris said she is reaching out to landlords to attend Thursday’s town hall, but added that the goal is to mostly listen and respond if needed.
“We want to see how this goes,” she said.
Thursday’s town hall will take place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Boys & Girls Club, 104 Education Drive.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected]