Urban Removal: Kingston’s Housing Crisis

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Wall Street in Uptown Kingston, home to many of the cultural attractions that are drawing people to the city. - PHOTO BY ANNA SIROTA

  • Photo by Anna Sirota

  • Wall Street in Uptown Kingston, home to many of the cultural attractions that are drawing people to the city.

We have the fastest-growing real estate market in the country right now,” says Jared Ashdown as we enter Rough Draft Bar & Books in Kingston. “It’s not just for people who want to escape the city. It’s for people who want a second home or that Airbnb action.”

It was early October, and Ashdown and I were on the tail end of an improvised tour through Kingston, a working-class city now home to the fastest rising home prices in the nation, according to a recent report by the National Association of Realtors. Desirable for its affordability, diversity, historic buildings, and direct bus line to New York City, the City of Kingston and Ulster County have seen a large influx of New Yorkers this summer because of the pandemic, which has challenged Kingston’s affordability: Affluent New Yorkers, accustomed to a higher cost of living, have been willing to pay a premium in Kingston to escape a city under lockdown. At the same time, local residents, many of whom work in the service industry, lost their jobs. In April of this year, Kingston lost approximately 3,300 leisure and hospitality jobs; in the last year, the Hudson Valley region reported 33,600 job losses in the leisure and hospitality industry. 

By July, Kingston’s hospitality industry had regained these lost jobs and, in September, the number of hospitality jobs had even exceeded pre-pandemic levels, perhaps to accommodate the recent influx of COVID-19 refugees. Although Kingston was able to gain back these lost jobs, the question now is whether or not it can gain more affordable housing options.

Although Kingston was able to gain back some of its lost jobs, the question now is: Can the city house its less-affluent residents?

Beginning in Midtown, a predominantly Black neighborhood where Ashdown grew up and currently resides, we drove through dilapidated side streets and saw as many real estate signs as political signs. On Ashdown’s own block, a handsome two-story Victorian on the corner with a “For Sale” sign had a “Sale Pending” sticker slapped on it. Ashdown, 25, has deep family roots in Kingston. His mother, who is Black, has ancestors dating back to the early 18th century. His father’s side of the family is Italian and arrived in the 1950s to work in the waterfront brickyards.

In Uptown, a more affluent, whiter neighborhood, we entered Rough Draft Bar & Books, where Ashdown exchanged pleasantries with Brett, our “bibliotender,” and then asked Brett to share the story of why he had to move in the early weeks of a…



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