State lawmakers pass housing relief package
by Benjamin Fang
Jun 03, 2020 | 313 views | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The State Legislature passed a package of six bills last week that lawmakers believe will begin to address the affordability and housing crisis worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first bill, the Emergency Rent Relief Act, directs $100 million from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund for emergency rental vouchers to help tenants with the greatest need. Another bill permanently prevents unpaid rent that accrued during the pandemic from being the basis of eviction for renters.

Three pieces of legislation address homeowner concerns, including the extension of mortgage forbearance payments, permitting local tax deferments during a state of emergency, and extending the deadline for property tax abatements for homeowners who are seniors or disabled.

The last bill in the legislative package places a moratorium on utility companies terminating services during a state of emergency.

“With the passage of these six bills, the Senate is taking initial steps to assist some of the tenants and homeowners with the greatest need who have been impacted by COVID-19,” said State Senator Brian Kavanagh, who chairs the Senate Housing Committee. “We recognize, though, that much more must be done to ensure that no New Yorker loses their home or is severely burdened by housing costs they can’t afford during this pandemic.

“We need substantial federal funding to provide the necessary assistance to renters, homeowners and those currently homeless,” he added, “as well as other steps that only the federal government has the authority to enact, particularly regarding mortgages issued and serviced by banks and businesses that are outside New York.”

Kavanagh and other state lawmakers have previously advocated for $100 billion in federal funding for housing and rental assistance, with $10 billion for New York.

The House recently passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which includes funding for rental and homeowner assistance. However, the U.S. Senate has not taken up the legislation.

The Senate’s housing chair added that while he believes the recently passed legislative package represents positive steps, he said it is just a beginning.

“My colleagues and I will continue to advocate for the federal funding we need,” Kavanagh said, “while working on the broad legislation that will ensure that New York is ready to spend the funds effectively and justly when they arrive.”

Housing advocates criticized the package of bills as not just inadequate, but a “step backwards.” On May 28, Housing Justice For All, the coalition that pushed for sweeping tenant protections last year, wrote on Twitter that “every tenant group in the state” opposes the legislation.

In particular, the coalition called the Emergency Rent Relief Act “extremely restrictive” because it would be difficult for gig workers, undocumented immigrants or anyone who has trouble proving their income to have access.

“Our homeless neighbors, those who need rent relief the most, people who are dying in shelters and in the streets, are ineligible to apply,” they wrote.

Additionally, the advocacy group argued that it would set a “bad precedent” by codifying and condoning unaffordable housing. If renters paid 50 percent of their income in rent before COVID-19, they will still be paying that amount even if they receive relief, they wrote.

Tenants would be “locked into rent burdens,” they said, leaving them at risk of eviction.

“It’s not just that it doesn’t go far enough,” the coalition wrote. “It’s that the program sets precedent that locks New Yorkers who most need our support into harm.”
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