It’s 2pm after an overnight shift, and Amanda Treasure is lying in bed unable to sleep. She can’t stop thinking about how most of what she brings home from her full-time job as a caretaker – two $900 checks a month – goes to rent for the two-bedroom apartment with a mold problem she shares with her disabled husband, teenage son and five pets.
In New York City, the rent guidelines board has gone as far as to freeze rents completely during times of crisis, such as the pandemic. But Michael McKee, a veteran New York City tenant organizer and housing law expert, told the Kingston tenants they could go even further. Why not decrease the rents?
Soto was selected to join Kingston’s rent guidelines board. McKee and two non-profits, Citizen Action and For the Many – the latter led by a former Bernie Sanders campaign organizer, June Nemon – organized Soto’s neighbors into a formidable tenants’ union. Wuyatta Reece, a 47-year-old nursing assistant, had been part of similar efforts in Brooklyn: “I know about going up to landlords,” she said. “I’m not afraid of them.” Treasure brought in her 25-year-old neighbors Charlotte Lloyd and Darin DeMatteo, also Kingston natives about to be priced out. Marie Talaska, a 69-year-old retiree, joined after receiving a 30% rent increase that meant she wouldn’t have enough money for her blood pressure medication. So did Teresa Greene, a 62-year-old wigmaker who said rent stabilization wasn’t just about saving money but rather saving their community.