SCHENECTADY — The issue of rising rent costs was front and center in a spirited public forum hosted by the Schenectady City Council on Thursday evening.
The meeting drew dozens of people to a packed auditorium at the Schenectady Boys & Girls Club on Thursday, as tenants and landlords made their voices heard during the town hall-style meeting.
Over the summer, the council discussed the potential of utilizing rent stabilization measures to address the issue, but opted to hold a forum in order to gain input from the community before moving forward.
During the session, resident Domiella Hoyt told the council that she had been homeless since 2019 after the lease on her first apartment had expired and she had been unable to acquire housing since.
Hoyt, 21, said she had paid rent on time every month before her landlord decided not to renew her lease.
“As far as the apartments that are being developed, there have been at least half a dozen buildings made that [have rents] anywhere from $1,400-1,600 per month for studio apartments to one to two bedrooms,” she said. “Those are completely unaffordable. The two low-income housing buildings they just did are not even available to so many people because there’s a waitlist that goes back so many months and you have to meet so many qualifications.”
Chris Morris, president of the group Schenectady Landlords Influencing Change, told the council that a task force of landlords that her group had assembled would share its findings with the city in February.
“Small landlords are suffering with property damage and lack of rents,” she said during the forum. “COVID did a number on us. We’ve been going for three years with the changes of laws and the restrictions that have come on us.”
Schenectady Board of Education member Jamaica Miles noted during the meeting that rent prices are currently increasing at a faster rate than wages, forcing residents to scramble to make ends meet.
“My entire life was in rental properties from Hamilton Hill to Upper State Street, throughout the city in multiple zip codes,” she said. “I’ve had experiences where property owners were absolutely amazing and I’ve had experiences where property owners were absolutely horrible in the maintenance of the building and how they treated me and my children.”
City Councilman Carl Williams, who was influential in organizing Thursday’s meeting, said after the forum that the council has received invaluable feedback from the community.
“I think the biggest thing is broadening our awareness and allow us to understand the full scope of any action we try to implement,” he said. “It’s important that we fully understand that any decision that we make affects anyone based on their current position. As we learned tonight, hearing from the tenants and the landlords, it reads differently. So it’s important for us to identify what the core issues are and then to understand what we can implement effectively and appropriately.”
A new study from the real estate research firm CoStar Group recently determined that rent in Schenectady County has increased by 9.8% since 2019, bringing the average monthly rent to $1,302 in the region.
Williams said the council will begin looking at potential legislative solutions to rising rents at the board’s committee meeting on Dec. 19.
“In that time [before the meeting], hopefully we’ll be able to pinpoint and prioritize some initiatives that we can act on sooner rather than later,” he said after the meeting. “Also, we’ll pull in local stakeholders, because we can’t do all of this work alone.”
Landlord Maureen Connor told the council that she has owned property in the city for two decades and said she had a right to not be taken advantage of by tenants.
“We live in Schenectady, we’re not getting rich here,” she said during the meeting. “I don’t mean to be sarcastic, but if anybody thinks they’re going to get rich renting [out] property in Schenectady, they’re in the wrong place.”
City Councilman Damonni Farley said after the meeting that he was heartened by the turnout for the public forum.
“When we first proposed this, I think there was some apprehension around whether this would be a valuable thing for people,” he said. “I think this answered any questions about that.”
Farley said he thought there was common ground found during the forum between residents on both sides of the renter and landlord equation.
“I was kind of surprised by the tone and the energy of the room where whether you’re a landlord or a tenant, there’s really not that kind of hard line,” he said after the meeting. “You had landlords that were former tenants and tenants that now want to be landlords and they’re all trying to navigate this difficult system. So how do we provide safe, affordable housing while landlords can make money and stay afloat and be able to maintain their properties? That will contribute to the larger community.”
City Councilman John Polimeni said after the meeting that he does not believe rent stabilization is a magic bullet, noting that residents should also put pressure on their state and federal representatives to address the rent issue.
“Rent issues are the byproduct of a lot of different factors,” he said. “Economic policy and all kinds of different things that impact it. So to say that rent stabilization is the thing that’s going to fix it is just not true.”
Farley said following that meeting that he believed it was a productive session.
“What I heard tonight is that there are a lot of people in the community that are hurting,” he said. “But I also heard that there’s a lot of people in the community that have proposed solutions. So the more we create situations like this where people can come together, we have a much better chance of creating the type of environment that people need to thrive in.”
City Councilwoman Doreen Ditoro said she has experienced the issue as both a tenant and landlord.
“I think the majority of landlords in the city have a heart and they want to help tenants,” she said after the forum. “I was just talking to a landlord who said his tenants were two weeks late with rent and he told them, ‘You’re not getting evicted.’ So there is a lot of kindness out there.”