Who has housing?

Posted 8/3/22

HUDSON VALLEY, NY — The shortage of affordable housing is not new news.

Sullivan County’s Division of Health and Human Services commissioner John Liddle recently noted that a lack of …

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Who has housing?


HUDSON VALLEY, NY — The shortage of affordable housing is not new news.

Sullivan County’s Division of Health and Human Services commissioner John Liddle recently noted that a lack of affordable housing held the county’s health rankings significantly back. “What was most striking about U.S. News and World Report’s take on our situation [a health ranking that rated Sullivan County 58th out of New York’s 62 counties] is that our lack of affordable housing is what really puts us behind other New York counties.”

Many of Sullivan County’s initiatives to support affordable housing have involved subsidizing the creation or rehabilitation of homes, increasing the stock of houses available.

A new initiative from For the Many kicking off in the Hudson Valley will tackle the problem of affordable housing from another angle: by making more established homes available.

For the Many is a Hudson Valley-based organizing group started in 2012 in the wake of Occupy Wall Street. The group has supported a number of progressive causes in healthcare, climate justice, immigration justice and more.

For the Many supported a good cause eviction bill that would have strengthened protections for tenants against rent-raising or eviction from landlords. While the state-wide bill failed, the group got good cause eviction measures passed in several Hudson Valley municipalities.

On July 21, For the Many kicked off its newest campaign—targeting “vacation rentals”—with a press conference in Newburgh.

“It’s no secret that short-term rentals like Airbnb and VRBO and others have exploded in the Hudson Valley in the past few years,” said political coordinator Daniel Atonna. “They were on the rise before the pandemic, but especially during the pandemic, they really exploded.”

Along with short-term rentals came the rise of “vacation rentals”—homes bought by investors who are based outside the community, for the sole purpose of use as short-term rentals.

The rise of these vacation rentals has worsened a decline in the amount of available affordable housing, as investors have bought up spare housing stock in municipalities across the Hudson Valley.

The legislation proposed by For the Many would take aim at that problem, establishing a registration process for short-term rentals and requiring that hosts live in the homes they’re renting out.

“This isn’t a ban on all short-term rentals,” said Newburgh city council member Giselle Martinez. “We just want to make sure that people who are taking advantage of the system are no longer going to have that power over our residents.”

Starting in Sullivan

For the Many has its roots in the Hudson Valley; Sullivan County lies outside the primary scope of its campaigns. But housing is a problem in Sullivan County, too, and the group’s branches are stretching out to organize around that problem here.

The community of Smallwood in the Town of Bethel is one that has felt the problems with vacation rentals firsthand. Smallwood Civic Association (SWCA) president Jonathan Hyman wrote the town board a letter in 2021 attesting to that impact.

Multiple people in Smallwood own two to four homes strictly for use as short-term rentals, said Hyman. Other homeowners used their homes as a short-term rental property 40 to 50 percent of the time.

“What’s happening now with short-term rental/Airbnbs is a far cry from the days of renting a room in one’s house to someone who was passing through,” said Hyman, identifying around 40 short-term rental houses that are not members of the SWCA. “For every short-term rental house that does not join the SWCA, that’s one more house that has transient visitors and not families or individuals who return regularly, participate in our communal life, volunteer and so on.”

Hyman requested that the Town of Bethel take action to regulate short-term rentals; as yet, the town has not done so. Supervisor Daniel Sturm has previously stated that the town will consider short-term rentals as part of its comprehensive planning process.

Sullivan County passed legislation in 2021 ensuring that the county could collect room occupancy tax from short-term rentals as well as existing hotels. The county expected to collect $2 million in room tax throughout 2021, and the ultimate figure came to around $3.2 million; while the inclusion of short-term rentals does not necessarily account for the entire total, it did contribute to the amount of room tax collected.

Taxation of rental properties was part of the solution discussed by For the Many, but the group encouraged municipalities to take a more comprehensive approach.

“The more comprehensive approach we’re taking gets to the root of the problem, which is the housing stock shortage,” said Atonna. “The root of the problem is no one can find a place to live, and a big reason is these vacation rentals that are taking up entire units and entire homes.”

So far, For the Many only has a small foothold in Sullivan County. A community organizing event in Monticello drew two county residents total (one of them being this reporter).

Jen Metzger, Sullivan County’s former state senator and current candidate for county executive in Ulster, was present at the press conference on the 21st, supporting For the Many. She didn’t know if Sullivan County would enact legislation against vacation rentals, she said. “It’s hard. Sullivan’s whole thing is about tourism and bringing people in… but it’s a balance. It’s addressing the excesses, because if you don’t address the excesses, you’re gonna lose your community.”

Sullivan County, housing, For the Many, Hudson Valley, short term rentals, AirBNB, VRBO


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