Bright Spot: A Guide to Kingston, NY

By   |  Photos by David McIntyre  |     |  Community Spotlight

Like most of the Hudson Valley, Kingston has housing affordability issues that predate the pandemic and were only exacerbated by the city’s brief star turn as hottest housing market in the US in summer 2021. Even before that, a downstate investment group had snatched up the five largest apartment complexes in town and began raising rents and slashing services. In the wake of all this, tenants organized and found a receptive ear at City Hall; Kingston became the first upstate city to mandate rent control and even rent reductions in some cases. Opposed by organized property owners, those measures are currently making their way through the appellate court.

As elsewhere, though, the root of the problem is a shortage of housing of all kinds—and Kingston leadership is looking at creative long-term solutions. A new provision will encourage the creation of accessory dwelling units (ADUs)—basement or attic apartments, garage conversions—through grants that will help low- and moderate-income homeowners to create them in exchange for a promise to rent them affordably for at least a decade. And the newest tweak, form-based zoning, signed into law by Mayor Steve Noble in early August, loosens land-use restrictions within neighborhoods and tightens controls on short-term rentals with an eye to diversifying housing stock and boosting walkability.

“I think this administration is just doing a kickass job,” says alderman Carl Frankel, a writer and long-time resident. “The mayor has a high-level support team, most of them wildly overqualified, and I think we can legitimately claim to be the leading city of our size in terms of sustainability.” Frankel points to provisions in the new code that remove minimum parking requirements and a pilot composting program as just two examples; he himself is planning to create an ADU.

Kingston is also not slacking on bringing in grant money. The city has been awarded nearly $22 million from the US Department of Transportation’s Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grant program, targeted to fund the city’s “Weaving the Waterfront” transportation initiative, meant to enhance walkability and connectivity in and between the shoreline districts and the rest of the city and add some flood protection on the East Strand.

In other funding news, the Center for Photography at Woodstock received a $1.5 million state grant to turn a 1907 cigar factory into a museum and cultural center in Midtown, the latest on a long list of adaptive reuse projects that have turned much of the city’s industrial infrastructure to other purposes.

The city benefits from a strong, varied nonprofit sector; within that are possibilities for collaboration that are just beginning to be realized, the NoVo Foundation has just announced a Kingston-specific offshoot that will focus on completing capital projects—renovating an 1876 residence for the Boys and Girls Club, transforming a former factory into a space for hands-on education, rehabbing vacant properties into affordable housing—and continuing its support of a wide range of community-based partners with a focus on resilience in the face of whatever may come.

The Kingston Scene

“Very few of the stores that were here when we started 10 years ago are still here,” says John Krenek, who co-owns furniture and lifestyle shop Exit 19 on Wall Street in Uptown Kingston with his partner Jamie Niblock. “But back then, there weren’t many at all. It’s been wonderful to witness the evolution—obviously the ideal would be to see every storefront occupied, but we’ve added solid new neighbors over the past several years, places like Westerlind and Magic Hill and Newt. There’s a new shop opening where Stella’s was on North Front Street, called the Everything Shop, and the Woolworth Building is getting divided into two retail spaces—one of them will be a women’s clothing store. In the food and beverage space, we’ve added Chleo and Brickmen Kitchen and Bar.”

The Kingston High School football team playing its 2022 season opener at Dietz Stadium.

Weekends, he says, are naturally the height of foot traffic in the Stockade—but the streets are far from deserted even on a Thursday morning. Krenek and Niblock opened a second outpost—Spruce Design and Decor—on the Rondout during the pandemic, and Krenek says both are thriving. “The explosion of so many people moving up here is really what’s kept us all going,” he says.

Kingston Real Estate Market

Amy Forste, sales manager with Coldwell Banker Village Green, says things have cooled just a bit since the pandemic peak. “The quantity of sales year-to-year is down 25 percent,” she says, “which I think has to do with the inventory being so low. Part of that is because people are reluctant to sell something they got into with a low-interest mortgage and take on a higher rate.”

Sellers, she says, should be mindful of the fact that the era of wild bidding wars and all-cash deals has calmed. “But if we get something that’s priced right and in good condition, we’re still seeing multiple offers, even bidding wars. Buyers are being more cautious and doing their homework,” Forste says. “Things are settling some, but we’re never going back to the pre-pandemic prices, we’re just not. So if you’re serious and pre-approved, there’s no time like the present—no one knows what the future will bring.”

At press time, there were a few three-bedroom ranch houses and cottages being offered between $300,000 to $400,000 and a handful of foreclosures and homes under 1,000 square feet priced a bit lower than that. $650,000 will buy a larger, four-bedroom “executive” ranch with finished basement and private yard, and a historic Federal brick home near the Stockade, set up as a six-unit apartment building and also boasting a private backyard and brick barn was priced at $899,000. A four-bedroom log cabin on the outskirts with panoramic mountain views and stone fireplace had just flipped to “pending” at $999,000 in early August. 

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