There are three fairly comprehensive rent relief bills pending in Albany right now that would provide relief for both landlords and tenants as COVID-19 still ravages the economy, but without a groundswell of support the bills may not get out of committee and make it to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s desk.
Sam Stein, a housing policy analyst at Community Service Society, a non-profit that conducts research and advocacy for more than 3 million low-income New Yorkers, first explained yesterday to the Housing Committee of Community Board 8 Manhattan the patchwork of federal, state and city eviction protections that exist.
“A lot of tenants are having trouble paying rents, the latest statistics show that about a quarter of tenants did not pay full rent last month,” said Stein.
The Congress is currently debating whether to extend the enhanced $600 unemployment benefits beyond its deadline next week. Stein noted without that extension, there could be a lot of evictions.
“It’s important that action be taken, especially on the state and federal level to stop this, but the city should do everything it can as well.”
Currently, New York State has an eviction moratorium in place until August 20, which was extended from its original termination date of August 5. But according to Stein, the extension to August 20 meant that there was a diminution in value.
“So, it now is not a blanket eviction moratorium, it’s a moratorium on evictions for people who can’t prove that their inability to pay is directly related to Covid,” Stein said.
He added, “That’s going to cover a lot of people but there are still going to be plenty of tenants who are left out. It also doesn’t cover people who became unemployed in Phase 4, which we’re in right now, so that’s going to be a lot of people as well.”
Additionally, it’s worth noting that the city’s department of investigations told its city marshals not to conduct evictions, so it’s possible that the state could end its eviction moratorium on August 20, but the city could continue to tell its city marshals not to act on it.
And, there’s a federal eviction moratorium on tenants whose landlords receive federal funding, such as NYCHA residents, but also Section 8 tenants, tenants in buildings that were built with low-income housing tax credit, as well as any building mortgaged by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae. If there was any federal support, then the tenants can’t be evicted.
“So, we got this patchwork of federal, state and city eviction protections. There are tenants that will fall through the cracks. At the moment, I think it’s doing its job but if any combination of those are taken away, we could see real trouble for tenants in the future,” noted Stein.
While three rent relief bills are pending in the Legislature, it has passed one major rent relief program to date. The way it works is that there’s a one-time payment to landlords that covers the increase in tenants’ rent burden for March, April, May and June. Let’s say that before the Covid pandemic, a tenant was paying 35 percent of income towards rent, but now their income has gone down while the rent stays flat, the new rent burden might be 50 percent or 100 percent if the tenant lost income altogether.
“Under this program, the state will pay the difference between what you paid before and what you can afford to pay now. So, if your rent burden was 35 percent before, and now it’s 50 percent, it will take you back to a 35 percent rent burden, in other words,” said Stein.
But with the prospect of the state’s moratorium on evictions being phased out by August 20, Stein hopes the three rent relief bills before the Legislature are enacted.
The first bill is sponsored by Brian Kavanaugh in the New York State Senate that would provide housing vouchers for those currently homeless and those at risk of homelessness to move from temporary hotels and shelters into permanent housing, and it would cover a pretty big gap that exists between what the city is currently offering homeless and near homeless residents in terms of vouchers and what the actual cost of rent is.
Another bill, sponsored by Karines Reyes in the Assembly, would protect commercial and residential tenants from eviction during the state of emergency, plus give them an extra year to recover, given that the economic fallout is going to me much longer than the epidemiological fallout, and it prevents filings and executions of both evictions and foreclosures.
Lastly, the most expansive and controversial bill is a cancel rent bill sponsored in the Senate by Julia Salazar.
Quite simply, the bill cancels rent from March 7 until the duration of the crisis, plus 90 days.
“It is designed to be universal because there are many ways that tenants fall through the cracks, and it understands that landlords can’t simply operate without rents but it puts the onus on the landlords rather than the tenants to prove hardship,” said Stein.