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Four new members will join panel on Jan. 1
The year ended on Monday (Dec. 20) for the Beacon City Council much like the last several months have gone: with a flurry of public comments on affordable housing, particularly a potential good-cause eviction law.
The meeting was the final appearance for four of the six council members — Amber Grant, Jodi McCredo, Terry Nelson and Air Rhodes — none of whom sought re-election. Newcomers Wren Longno, Justice McCray, Molly Rhodes and Paloma Wake, who all ran unopposed, will be sworn in on Jan. 1; the council and mayor will hold an organizational meeting on Jan. 3. Dan Aymar-Blair (Ward 4) and George Mansfield (At-Large) also ran unopposed for re-election.
The city has been inundated with requests since the fall to adopt a good-cause law, which, according to a September draft, would prevent landlords from arbitrarily deciding not to renew leases and intimidating tenants through tactics such as discontinuing utilities, refusing to make repairs or imposing “unreasonable rent increases” without proper notice.
But on Monday, for the first time, landlords and other residents offered a contrarian view.
Graham Lawlor rents out three units in the four-family building that he owns. He told the council on Monday that he’s never raised the rent or evicted a tenant in the five years since he bought the building.
“That decision is looking very shortsighted in light of this proposal, maybe catastrophically shortsighted,” he said, citing “dire and probably unintended consequences” for his tenants, “who make more money than I do.”
Lawlor said he’s done all the work himself to slowly bring the 1870 building toward code compliance. At times, for projects such as removing asbestos or adding insulation, he needs apartments to be vacant, but he gives his tenants — who pay far below market-rate rents — plenty of notice when that happens.
A good-cause law, however, would make that arrangement illegal. “I can’t afford to go to court,” he said. “It’s far from a sure thing that I will win and I can’t afford it anyhow.”
Good-cause laws have been adopted by a number of municipalities this year, including Hudson, Albany, Newburgh and Poughkeepsie, after a bill stalled at the state level in 2020. Beacon’s discussions have been on and off since City Attorney Nick Ward-Willis told the council in October that he believes state tenant protections enacted in 2019 prevent the city from adopting additional regulations on the local level.
The city has asked Attorney General Letitia James for her opinion. While she said she supports a statewide good-cause measure after announcing her candidacy for governor in October (she has since dropped out of the race), James has yet to weigh in on local authority.
On Monday, another resident, Scott Lerman, said that “good intentions don’t automatically lead to good laws.” Lerman said the city should hone its own approach to affordability, rather than relying on “untested” laws adopted by neighboring municipalities.
Lerman suggested that Beacon enforce the state’s tenant protections by offering free legal aid, enforcing penalties for illegal short-term rentals and raising and directing rent subsidies “to people that need them, rather than provide rent control for wealthy people.”
Most importantly, he said, the council should increase the supply of affordable housing through “substantial new construction projects” and other initiatives, such as low-cost accessory dwelling units.
A good-cause law would force landlords to raise rents as much as allowed every year “as a hedge” against potential legal costs, repairs and insurance. “That’s what’s traditionally happened with rent controls,” he said.
Housing advocates fear that renters will be vulnerable to predatory and retaliatory measures after a statewide moratorium on pandemic-related evictions ends on Jan. 15.
Without a good-cause law, there’s a “huge imbalance” in the law that favors landlords, said another resident, Erin Ashoka. “This is because property owners have the power to take away a person’s shelter — a fundamental condition to being able to survive,” she said.
Mansfield asked city attorneys on Dec. 13 to prepare a summary of the potential impacts a good-cause law could have on tenants and landlords, especially smaller ones, as well as scenarios in which rent increases would be permissible, to inform the four incoming council members when the panel again takes up the discussion in the new year.