According to well-placed sources, PCB handler/processor TCI of NY filed an application last week with the Town of Ghent to rebuild its facility on Falls Industrial Park Road. The company’s application is said to have been accompanied by a check which has been placed in escrow by the Town.
However, the application reportedly has been returned to TCI as incomplete, as it did not contain all of the required information. Some town officials have informally signaled that TCI would need to go before its planning board if it wished to resume operations
As it happens, the Ghent Town Board has its regularly-scheduled meeting tonight (Thursday) at 7:30 pm at Town Hall, located at 2306 State Route 66.
To date, the Town has not cited TCI for any of many evident zoning code violations which have been brought to its attention. Activities such as fuel and explosives storage, handling of high-concentration PCBs, safety precautions and hazard prevention, and the introduction of multiple tenants into a building, are all clearly regulated by the Town’s zoning code and State fire safety regulations which are the Town’s obligation to enforce. Records obtained via FOIL and from private legal files held by neighbors indicate that many or most of the company’s uses of the site have never been the subject of a permitting review.
TCI left Ulster County in the mid-1980s after a fire similar to the one in Ghent led Newburgh fire and code enforcement officials, as well as State regulators, to cite the company for multiple violations. The company then attempted to set up shop again in Greene County, but were blocked among other things by stiff opposition from Athens firefighters, who noted that Athens did not have the equipment or resources to fight a major fire at such a facility. It was then that TCI came to Columbia County, representing themselves as an electronics recycler, and claiming that any transformers accepted onsite would be drained and contain at most scarce traces of PCBs.
In addition to having two fires at its plant in just the past year, TCI’s tenure in Ghent includes the death of a young worker on the job due to exposure to freon gas, and two failed applications (one to build an incinerator, the other to process household hazardous waste) which cost the Town enormous legal fees.
In a comment on the previous post here about Hudson getting younger, 3rd Ward Alderman John Friedman noted that:
One problem that I hear from younger Hudsonians and those aspiring to be is that the cost of rental housing in the city has climbed precipitously (is that an oxymoron?) in the last year or so and make finding a decent place to live difficult for this particular demographic. The City is trying to figure out ways to stimulate a market response to this demand but that usually takes 2 years or so...
Speaking as a former Young Person, I can attest that every generation thinks that The Rent Is Too Damn High. But since complex issues like this require more than cursory analysis, below are some examples and considerations that might be taken into account:
In the documentary film Two Square Miles, recently screened at Basilica Hudson, a local resident complains that landlords are asking “six, seven hundred dollars" for an apartment, calling these prices “crazy.” It is suggested by some that “those people” are trying to “push all of us out.” Now, that interview was shot almost ten years ago. A decade later, I still see that same interviewee daily, walking his dog on Warren Street. He’s still here; he didn’t get pushed out, in spite of the alleged “craziness” of Hudson rents.
Today, one can readily find on Craigslist listings such as this: a newly-remodeled
three-bedroom apartment in uptown Hudson for under $1,000. Three young people could
share it and pay just $325 each per month. (Does unsubsidized rent get any cheaper than that anywhere in the Hudson Valley, unless you’re prepared to live in a free-fire zone in Newburgh?) One can find many similarly-priced options on Craiglist; while offerings from local realtors tend to be more of the luxury variety.
If rents do need ameliorating, the main way the City of Hudson can help is to get its budget and taxes under control, since rents correlate closely to taxation here. Overall, private investment has been a great benefit to Hudson: derelict structures are saved, delinquent properties go back on the tax rolls, contractors get work doing renovations, and formerly-closed-up apartments go back on the rental market, increasing supply. But if a landlord is paying taxes that exceed their montly mortgage payment, that is going to add substantially to what they have to charge in rent just to hold onto their building. Few if any landlords will take a loss on a rental, and high taxes will lead to high rents.
Another strategy that could moderate rents would be for the City to encourage or require un(der)used properties to be activated again. One example is Galloway’s apartment building on the corner of Warren and 2nd street: it was cleared of tenants at purchase time nearly a decade ago, and inexplicably has remained empty ever since. Ditto the former “Apartments of Distinction” building at the corner of Union and 5th Street, formerly home to multiple families, There are many other examples of “warehoused” residential space all over town—I recall seeing a figure of as much as 15-20% of housing stock being empty here in one recent report. Get those apartments back on the market, and rents will surely come down, if the law of supply and demand is not an economic fiction.
As far as rents going up, it’s worth trying to sort out anecdotal reports from the actual situation before officials take any major action. If a couple of folks’ rents go up, and they talk a lot about it at a local bar frequented by young people, it becomes easy in a small town to jump to the conclusion that everyone’s rent is exploding—even when those two examples are exceptional. For example, just yesterday I went to watch football at the newly-purchased house of a Hudson “young person.” (That in itself is, anecdotally, a good sign.) There were about seven of us hanging out—two of whom had just moved to Hudson to work at a local business. They had been crashing on friends’ couches in search of place to live, and literally during the Patriots/Seahawks game, one of them got a call and they left to move into their new apartment. So what is the reality? Are rents going up too high, or are young people finding apartments? If rents are so problematic, why are young people moving here at a rate unheard of a decade ago? In short, the City might first want to try to collect some rigorous data to find out what is really happening on the ground, rather than acting in haste based on sketchy info.
It remains that Hudson has a tremendous amount of subsidized housing, per capita—certainly higher than any other municipality in the County. This subsidized housing stock has not diminished in the past 10-15 years. And it probably also ranks in the top five in the region in terms of providing affordable housing (again, per capita). In the Terrace apartments, for example, if your situations qualifies you, you can get an apartment at a rent which is pegged to your actual income: you only pay what you can actually afford at any given time. This is not something that most towns offer.
In that context, it would be useful to determine how Hudson rents compare to rents in other towns and small cities nearby. Is it more expensive to rent an apartment in Hudson than, say, Philmont? Kinderhook? Catskill? Albany? If one thinks that rents are too high in Hudson, where else would one go—and what would one be passing up by moving, in terms of either job or lifestyle opportunities? If you move to a place where rent is cheaper, will there be any work or anything to do after work in that place, or would it be cheaper precisely because it is dead? If housing is really hard to come by in Hudson, it must be even harder elsewhere; and to that extent, rental pressure is a New York State or American problem.
Our American capitalist system is an unfair one, and one that needs fixing. Even former Alderman Quintin Cross (a past master of divide-and-conquer local politics) acknowledges toward the end of Two Square Miles that it is “not the fault” of people who have embraced Hudson’s potential that our society remains full of economic and social ills. With that in mind, it would be good for City officials to consider ways to address the most catastrophic rental situations—such as when a building sells, and longtime renters are given minimal time to move out. Renters ought to have the right to a lease, and a reasonable amount of time to find new quarters if owners change.
Like every place inhabited by humans, Hudson has some greedy landlords, some slumlords, as well as some elitists whose rental rates are calculated to enact some sort of social engineering. And like every place inhabited by humans, some people latch onto shallowly-understood buzzwords such as gentrification, deploying it as a social pose or way to assuage their own guilt over being privileged, without ever backing it up with actual data or acting meaningfully upon that concern. Gentrification is common in our society; people interested in really understanding and addressing are rare. If anything, thanks to Hudson’s situation, its resources, its walkability, its building stock, and most of all its people, the City may be better positioned than most rural towns to address with the profound flaws of that system.
As noted by that film’s co-producer Sven Huseby at Basilica the other night: if you visit similar towns around the country, one quickly realizes that Hudson’s survival and slow, steady improvement is not merely exceptional in America today, it is almost unique.
There’s still a lot of hand-wringing about the Hudson population dropping over the past decade, as if this were some sort of catastrophe for the life of the town. Official census figures show the number of residents dropping about 11% between 2000 and 2010, from 7,524 to 6,713—about a third of that drop attributable to changes in how prisoners in the Hudson Correctional Facility are counted.
Whether such figures actually speak to the health and fortunes of this “small city” is debatable at best, verging on dubious. Hudson’s population was never higher than in the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s, when residence rose well over 12,000 people. Does anyone want to go back to the mid-1930s, just to be able to say that the population has risen again?
Still, ever since this writer moved here full-time in the dank February of 1998, it’s always been fashionable to predict imminent doom for Hudson. Yet things have kept steadily improving, despite the efforts of certain officials and entrenched interests to impede progress. Then-City Attorney Giff Whitbeck once was heard to declare that the merchants of Warren Street were shell businesses on the verge of collapse—mere façades. That was in the late 1990s. Today, there are probably five times as many occupied storefronts on Hudson’s main street.
Indeed, closer look at voter rolls maintained by the Columbia County Board of Elections tells a somewhat different story about what’s occurred in the past decade or so. Despite the Census showing nearly 800 fewer people in town over the past decade, the number of voters on record in 1999 in comparison with today has dropped by only 56 people.
The percentage of Hudsonians registered to vote thus has actually increased, from 49% to 54%. As a basic measure of civic engagement, one could argue from these numbers that while there are fewer people in Hudson now, there are more interested in its future. To some extent, this reflects the number of concerted voter registration pushes in the years of 2000-2005, when there was a series of hotly-contested City races in the individual five wards as well as Citywide.
Now, turnout in the 2011 Hudson election was notably dismal, possibly because of the lack of contested alderman and supervisor races in the City; the upcoming Presidential, Senatorial, Congressional, Assembly and Legislature contests may be a better test of how engaged these voters really are.
More telling is the average age of registered voters, which has dropped from 54 years old to just 50 over that same period (1999-2012). In other words, the Hudson electorate is getting younger—an improvement, many would say, as a frequent concern in the 1990s was that Hudson’s population was not merely dropping, but also aging. That measurable shift demonstrates with hard figures the anecdotal sense that Hudson is indeed getting younger.
One sees the benefits of this shift economically when venues like Basilica Hudson can routinely bring out 600-800 young people on random weekday nights for bands like Grimes and Godspeed You Black Emperor. (Obviously, many of those attendees were young people from around the region, from Bard to RPI to SUNY to as far away as the Five College area of Northhampton, Mass. But the attendance was also boosted by local residents.
The answers as to why Hudson might be getting younger are not hard to imagine. There is a growing music scene, with multiple venues on both a grand and small scale, from Basilica to Spotty Dog—few of which existed until the last five years or so, let alone in the late ’90s. There are far more options of places to hang out in both day and nighttime, and more places for young people to work. Countless businesses which many newere residents take for granted (from retail and restaurants on Warren Street, to service and manufacturing off it) just weren’t here a decade ago, such as Etsy and Digifab. There’s just a lot more to do now.
Thus when it comes to population, it may many less how many people live in a place, than who. Better to have three people who pay attention to what’s going on, work in town, spend their income locally, support local civic institutions, and get involved with their community, than four who are apathetic and disengaged. Hudson still has a long way to go, but the increased youth of those who have stayed or moved here is a hopeful sign.