(EAST ORANGE/ORANGE, NJ) - As the saying goes, “pressure cracks pipes”. With over 15,000 pre-evictions filed by landlords in the state, waiting for the Governor’s eviction and foreclosure restrictions to expire before evicting COVID-19 impacted financially struggling renters, the State’s youngest legislator took over the Assembly floor with a ‘Judgement Day’ speech, and a bill in hand to alleviate that pressure. The Assembly voted in favor of the bill known as “The People’s Bill” A4266/S2340/A4034, with 48 members voting “yes”, 3 of them Republican showing bi-partisan support. The speech and questioning can be heard here at the 1 hour and 38-minute mark. Assemblywoman Britnee N. Timberlake is the prime sponsor of the bill in the Assembly while Senator Troy Singleton is the prime sponsor in the Senate.
(Note on vote count image above: Annette Chaparro was absent, aside from being absent, “not voting” means the member chose not to vote on the bill. Abstain is a neutral vote that does not count as a "yes".)
“This bill not only helps renters, but it helps homeowners and landlords too. It will prevent a mass amount of homelessness, evictions, and foreclosures” said Assemblywoman Britnee N. Timberlake (East Orange, Orange, Clifton, Montclair). “The passing of this bill will save the state millions of taxpayer dollars by reducing the amount of money needed to combat a tsunami of homelessness created by evictions and foreclosures that will lead to the need for more social services like, food insecurity, unemployment, shelter, mental and physical health, etc. The bill offers an opportunity for landlords and renters to work out an affordable repayment plan for any months of missed rent during the State’s Public Health Emergency. These payments would begin after the Public Health Emergency is over, and would be paid on top of their regularly agreed upon rent. It is important the repayment plan be affordable to families as to not just delay an inevitable eviction down the road. If a landlord simply moves to evict without working a repayment plan out, depriving a COVID-19 financially impacted family the opportunity to keep a roof over their heads, then good luck to that landlord as they try to recover those lost months from a now homeless person. This bill gives a greater chance for families to keep a roof over their heads with no impact to credit or fear of being placed on a renter blacklist, while simultaneously giving landlords the best chance to recover lost months owed to them.”
When asked how this bill helps homeowners and landlords with mortgages, the Assemblywoman said, “Some banks are not offering fair mortgage forbearance. Some are requiring full payment on a 90-day forbearance due on the 91st day. Lump sum payments like this are not affordable to most or fair. It will only lead to eventual foreclosures down the road. New Jersey is already number one in the country in foreclosures, this bill keeps us from adding to that crisis. The People's Bill establishes a uniformed mortgage forbearance where the payment is put on the back-end of the loan, thereby extending the loan term with no addition fees, interest, lump sum payment, or impact on credit. Landlords can apply for the forbearance to help ease the financial impact of renters who may not have been able to pay their rent during COVID-19 or to ease their own COVID-19 financial struggles.”
When asked why she chose such strong language in her speech to her Assembly colleagues on July 30th, Timberlake responded, “‘Judgement Day’ is symbolic, although I used the phrase in an appropriate play on words for the separation of church and state. The basics of my faith and humanity involves feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and providing shelter to those in need. This bill puts us legislators to the test. Will we stand with influential corporate greed and those representative of the wealthy 1% who have fought to kill this bill since its inception, used divisive arguments as an attempt to create a rift between landlords, homeowners, and renters when in fact all are a part of the same housing ecosystem and need relief… Or will we legislators side with the 99% of people symbolic of those living paycheck to paycheck. Small business owners whose homes are tied as collateral to their businesses fearing the loss of everything in a foreclosure, the struggling families standing in line for food all over the state unsure as to how they will pay their rent or mortgage, the small landlords who need a fair mortgage forbearance to pass their relief onto renters. That is why I speak of “Judgement Day”. The people of New Jersey are watching, and not just the 150 advocates and mayor’s in support, but hundreds and thousands of New Jersians, all who will be judging to see if this will be politics as usual and what Trenton will do to help them. I did not come to the Assembly to play games. I came to help my community, reverse systematic and economic racism (not deepen it), and to make my family proud. This bill is needed because our world has been rocked, physically, emotionally, and economically by Coronavirus.”
When asked where the bill is at now and what her hopes are for its success, Assemblywoman Timberlake replied, “the bill is in the Senate. Senator Troy Singleton has been a strong constant in this fight. I have confidence that he and the Senate President will champion this through as we did in the Assembly, and get the bill to the desk of the Governor, who is eagerly awaiting it.
We must prevent any amendments that would gut protections of renters, homeowners, or landlords. The bill is very balanced. Any gutting will only result in protections from one group or another to be off balance. I want to see the repayment plan outlined in the bill to remain untouched. But, corporate apartment lobbyist are working very hard to make the repayment plan unaffordable.”
Tapinto asked Timberlake what the repayment plan involves, she explained, “it first offers the opportunity for the landlord and renter to come up with a repayment plan amongst themselves. If an affordable agreement is not established, this bill gives impacted renters six months to repay every one month owed that was not paid during the COVID-19 public health emergency, with all money owed being paid within 30 months. Doing the math, that would mean on a $1,500 rent, after the state of emergency is lifted, a tenant would pay the $1,500 and $250 on top of it until the balance owed is paid off, or the 30 months is up. Corporate lobbyist for wealthy landlords want to shorten the timeframe of payment which will increase that monthly amount of $250. Being that their members they represent will remain wealthy with or without the passing of this bill, it is hard for them to understand the $250 additional dollars for rent is already hard for some families to do, especially after recovering economically from COVID-19. Changing this repayment plan will only increase the odds of a family not being able to honor the agreement and ultimately be evicted.
What should families do prior to and after this bill passing, “People should visit the State’s DCA website to learn their rights about rental assistance programs available to them. Renters should contact their landlords if struggling to pay rent, and try to work a payment plan out. Also visit the HMFA website to learn about pending and existing assistance for small landlords and businesses. Those with mortgages who are financially struggling themselves, or who have tenants struggling should call their mortgage lender to see what their options for forbearance are; not all banks are behaving badly. Lastly, contact your local municipality to see if they are offering any COVID-19 housing relief.
In closing, Timberlake added, “Speaker Craig Coughlin and his leadership is second to none. His support through this process and on the floor has been tremendous. Senator Troy Singleton and my fellow Assembly prime sponsors of the bill, Housing Chairman Benjie Wimberley, Assemblywomen, Shanique Speight, and Angela V. McKnight have all been champions in this fight. There are over 150 advocacy groups in support of the bill. The core four of the Advocacy has been Housing and Community Development Network of NJ, Fair Share Housing, Ironbound Community Corporation, and NJ Citizen Action. A collaboration of support called Compassion NJ has also formed. The bill has also been endorsed by several mayors including Newark and East Orange Mayors Ras J. Baraka and Ted R. Green.
On the bill’s passage in the Assembly, members of the Compassionate NJ collaborative issued the following statements:
“Rents and mortgages are due again on Saturday [August 1], and although there’s a moratorium on evictions and other short-term protections in place, the obligation to pay remains,” said Staci Berger, president and chief executive officer of the Housing and Community Development Network of NJ. “For many residents, it’s another month of falling behind, heightening financial and emotional stress during this unprecedented pandemic and economic downturn. It is impossible for people to socially distance and stay home if they are homeless or housing insecure. ‘The People’s Bill’ protects public health by helping people keep a roof over their heads. We urge the Senate to pass it without delay.”
“We applaud the New Jersey Assembly for passing the People’s Bill, which will help prevent a massive wave of evictions and foreclosures as we struggle to beat back and recover from the COVID pandemic,” said Beverly Brown Ruggia, financial justice organizer, NJ Citizen Action. “The legislation also ensures that landlords and banks get paid by giving tenants and homeowners a payment plan that is both compassionate and realistic. This bill is especially critical for communities of color, who have been devastated financially by the pandemic and face even more hurdles thanks to the Trump administration, which recently rescinded the federal Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule. We urge the New Jersey Senate to pass companion legislation at their very next session so the People’s Bill can be signed into law as soon as possible.”
“This is an amazing moment as the People’s Bill has passed the Assembly and now the ‘judgement bill,’ as Asw. Timberlake referred to it as, goes to the Senate”, said Maria Lopez-Nunez, deputy director of Ironbound Community Corporation. “It is time for our senators to show us if they are for people or for profit. We trust that there will be no more weakening of this bill and it will be passed swiftly to ensure no homeowner or renter is underwater.”
“This bill is a lifeline to people like me,” said Jeff Quattrone, advocate, New Jersey Organizing Project. “I’m unemployed, and I haven’t received my benefits yet. Going without money coming in for an unknown period of time is daunting. To see the state take action to help its residents in this unprecedented time of need is a good example of how government works for the people.”
“The State Assembly has taken much needed action in passing A4266/A4034 to ensure New Jersey families can remain in their homes during the worst pandemic we have faced in over a century,” said Adam Gordon, executive director, Fair Share Housing Center. “We thank in particular bill sponsor Asw. Britnee Timberlake for her committed leadership and tireless work to get this legislation done. We also thank Housing Committee Chair Asm. Benjie Wimberly, the other co-sponsors of this legislation, and Speaker Coughlin, Majority Leader Greenwald and their leadership team for their support in advancing the legislation. We call on the Senate to act immediately to pass this crucial bill to allow for Governor Murphy’s signature.”
Hundreds of thousands of low and moderate income New Jersey families are depending upon the full passage of A4266/S2340/A4034. The legislation protects families unable to make up several months’ rent from being evicted and provides forbearance to those who are unable to immediately meet their mortgage payments.
After the coronavirus economic shutdown, many New Jersey workers lost their income through no fault of their own. While eviction and foreclosure moratoriums have kept such families housed for now, their expiration looms and threatens to bring about a tragic surge in homelessness and displacement. Without this legislation, New Jersey would see a surge in homelessness and housing insecurity unseen in our history. As of now, approximately 450,000 households are unable to pay their August rent.