West Side Rag »The future of tenants and landlords hangs in the balance with the state budget. This is what it means
Posted on April 1, 2021 at 9:15 a.m. by West Sider
This article was originally published on through THE CITY
Hiram Alejandro Durán / THE CITY
By Allison Dikanovic, THE CITY
After a year of band-aid, lawmakers in Albany finally have the big bucks to pass a substantial relief package from the state budget. Here’s what you need to know about what’s on the table for tenants, landlords, and landlords.
For a year, many New Yorkers navigated piecemeal moratoriums and confusing eviction laws, filled out hardship forms, asked for failed rent relief programs, requested mortgage forbearance, discovered complicated unemployment systems and struggled to make ends meet while fearing deportation.
Now, substantial relief can be in sight. But like everything else with housing during the pandemic, it’s not that simple.
New York has $ 2.3 billion from the federal government – as well as potentially more state government money – to provide significant assistance to tenants and landlords. And it’s up to lawmakers and the governor to decide what to do with it.
A new drive for rent relief and other housing benefits (like mortgage relief and homeless New Yorkers) are now included in the state’s last-minute budget debate.
Time is running out on the state budget, and lawmakers could vote on a new rent relief program at any time. So let’s get into it.
Here’s what you need to know about what’s on the table for tenants, landlords, and landlords.
Tenant and Landlord Advocates Agree, Need for Help is Urgent
Joanna Wong, active member of the owners group Little New York Homeowners noted: “The number one problem is getting this rent relief to go to as many people as possible as quickly as possible. “
Lawmakers have recommended the passage of an emergency rent assistance program that has been amended in recent weeks. Now it belongs to Governor Andrew Cuomo, Speaker of the Assembly Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to hash the final program in the later stages of the budget process.
Cea Weaver, organizer of Housing Justice for all noted: “How these things play out will make a huge difference. “
But key details of how the state will distribute the funds remain unresolved and are being discussed behind closed doors in Albany …
So what do we know?
1. What is the stake
A ton of people are behind on rent – somewhere between 800,000 and 1.2 million households statewide. New Yorkers owe more than $ 2.2 billion in rent arrears, according to estimates from a study by the Stout advisory group and estimated figures from several lawmakers.
As tenants struggle to pay their rent, city landlords fall behind on property taxes, owed more than $ 600 million, according to an analysis by Comptroller Scott Stringer.
Likewise, more than 50,000 homeowners statewide are behind on their mortgage payments, said Jessica Wells-Hasan, vice president of development for the Center for New York City Neighborhoods. More than half of these owners are people of color.
Measures have been put in place to prevent evictions and seizures. But aside from last year’s widely criticized limited rent relief program, tenants and landlords have deprived themselves of financial assistance specifically for housing, as many people lost income during the pandemic.
2. The last rent relief program failed
Lawmakers and tenant and landlord advocates agree that New York’s past attempt at a rent relief program has largely failed due to overly strict qualifying requirements.
The state distributed less than half of the $ 100 million allocated to tenants in need, even after slightly widening the eligibility pool, according to State Assembly members Zohran Mamdani and Linda Rosenthal.
A spokesperson for the State Department of Housing and Community Renewal, which administered the program, said the latest figures had not yet been finalized.
Freeman Klopott, spokesperson for the State Budget Division, did not confirm what was going on with this unspent money, but said, “We are currently working with the legislature to expand the program.”
3. The basic structure of the new program
The new rent relief program under debate would pay the rent debt in full for the past year for qualified tenants and an additional three months, if necessary. So 15 months in total.
Tenants or landlords with a tenant’s consent can apply, and the funds would go directly to the landlords.
The federal government has offered guidelines on how states can spend the money. Households should meet all of these requirements:
- Financial hardship or reduced household income due to COVID
- Risk of homelessness or housing instability
- Earn less than 80% of the region’s median income – or less than $ 81,920 in New York City for a household of three
But, the state could add requirements and potentially use state money to extend assistance to tenants who earn more than 80% of the region’s median income.
So, what don’t we know yet?
1. How much money is actually at stake
In addition to the $ 2.3 billion in federal money from stimulus packages passed late last year and earlier this month, lawmakers and the governor are still determining how much additional state funding will go to rent relief and other housing. aid.
The State Senate and Assembly have each recommended that at least an additional $ 200 million be added to rent relief and that hundreds of millions of additional state dollars be used for other aid. to housing. But lawmakers we’ve spoken to have said Cuomo may push this back.
In theory, the amount of money at stake is enough to offset all rent debts owed throughout the pandemic if it can reach everyone who qualifies.
But nothing is guaranteed beyond the $ 2.3 billion.
Esteban Girón, an organizer of the Crown Heights Tenant Union, said: “This is an insane amount of money and a generous and generous portion for tenants who really need it… we’ve done a lot of work to make it happen.”
2. What are the eligibility requirements and what documents will be needed to apply?
Some lawmakers and advocates want the eligibility and application process to be simpler to avoid prohibitive requirements like the latest rent relief program. But these conditions are still being negotiated.
Weaver, of Housing Justice for All, stressed that it is important for tenants to have the opportunity to self-certify their hardships – which means they can vouch and not need official documents or a letter from an employer if they cannot get it.
The ability for tenants to self-certify is permitted under federal guidelines, but not guaranteed.
Undocumented tenants are explicitly included in the program offered by the state legislature. But tenant advocates warn that if the program does not create a hardship self-certification option, undocumented workers and others working in the informal economy could be excluded.
Ellen Davidson, tenant lawyer at Legal Aid Society, noted: “We have a lot of tenants who work in the informal economy. The only way for them to prove their eligibility is to be able to self-certify. “
3. Whether relief will come with conditions for landlords or protection for tenants
Tenant advocates are pushing for a condition that would prevent landlords from evicting tenants for at least a year after accepting relief funds. But lawmakers we spoke to said the governor was proposing a shorter time frame.
Wong of Small Property Owners of New York was concerned about the impact this condition would have on small owners like her.
Wong said: “I would like to see this rent relief pushed back unconditionally.”
She said telling landlords they can’t evict a tenant who doesn’t pay for a period of time after receiving rent arrears could put small landlords in a difficult position. Landlords, she said, could still fall behind on construction spending if a tenant does not pay rent during these conditional conditions.
“[T]hat is not a good compromise, ”she said. “This is not a feasible solution for homeowners.
4. What will happen if an owner decides not to accept the funds?
Some advocates and lawmakers fear that landlords will decide not to accept relief funds so that they can proceed with the eviction of their tenants.
It is not known whether the owners would be able to refuse or how the state would handle this. But federal guidelines for the relief money say it can be distributed directly to tenants if a landlord chooses not to participate.
5. What exactly is the budget for homeowners and small owners?
Hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal and state governments are expected to provide mortgage relief to homeowners, but how these funds will be distributed remains unclear.
Homeowner advocates are pushing to ensure that a program that funds legal aid and housing counseling, called the Homeowner Protection Program, is fully funded from the state budget.
Ivy Perez, Policy and Research Officer at New York City Neighborhoods Center, noted: “We are the last line of defense for a homeowner in distress, helping them get hold of it, helping them access resources like forbearance, help and loans. We offer this help to the owner.
Is there anything else on the table for accommodation?
Lawmakers and the governor are discussing proposals for two new initiatives to help homeless New Yorkers.
One is a government bond program that would be similar to the federal Section 8 program, dubbed the housing bond program.
And under our Neighbors with Dignity Housing Act, the state would buy distressed hotels and commercial properties to convert them into supportive and affordable housing.
So what can I do about it?
If you are convinced of how the rental assistance program will work, or if you have any questions or concerns, you can contact your state senators and members of the assembly.
You can find your representatives here.
The budget will likely be decided soon, and we’ll be sure to detail what you need to know about rent relief when it becomes official.
If you end up calling, or have called before, let us know by sending an email to [email protected]
THE CITY is an independent, non-profit media dedicated to impactful reporting serving the people of New York City.