(NEW YORK, NEW YORK)— Housing advocacy groups have worked with progressive New York senators to introduce three new housing bills that they say will provide tenants and homeowners with the grace period they need to recover from the economic shock of COVID-19. Failure to protect struggling tenants now, they warn, will leave thousands of New Yorkers homeless and ultimately only create deeper and harder-to-address societal problems in the long run. The bill provides protections for tenants, co-ops, and some small landlords, but overall, investors, speculators, developers, and corporate landlords, who make up the majority of landlords in NYC, will likely not be pleased.
The first bill is the Emergency Housing Stability and Displacement Prevention Act, sponsored by New York Senator Zellnor Myrie, whose district spans Sunset Park, Gowanus, lower Crown Heights and East Flatbush. The act would extend the current moratorium on evictions and foreclosures for another year after the state of emergency was over and would apply to both residential and commercial tenants. It would also block landlords from taking a tenant to housing court, unlike a loophole in the current laws which saw housing courts reopen in June. Under the current laws, landlords could take a tenant to court early and ask them to prove “financial hardship” related to COVID-19 in order to benefit from the eviction moratorium. The bill also cites systemic racism as an urgent motivation for housing justice initiatives. Recent reports have shown dramatic overlap between the primarily Black and Latinx neighborhoods most heavily hit by COVID-19 and the neighborhoods with the most housing violations and highest levels of rent burden. Progressive politicians make the case that COVID-19 relief, housing rights, and racial justice are deeply intertwined problems.
The second bill is the perhaps the most well know, introduced by celebrity congresswoman Ilhan Omar and supported by Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders. The Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act of 2020 would cancel all rent and mortgages from March 2020 until the end of the state of emergency, plus a 90-day grace period. Its advocates argue that with 11 percent of the country still out of a job, even with generous eviction moratoriums in place, the majority of renters will be unable to pay back the many months of rent they may have missed. It would also prevent the non-payment of rent from impacting a tenant or homeowners credit score. While the act would provide protections for small landlords, it would not provide protections for the large corporate landlords, who make up the majority of landlords in New York.
The final bill to reach the New York Senate is the Housing Access Voucher Program, sponsored by Senator Brian Kavanagh, whose district spans lower Manhattan and North Brooklyn. The bill proposes vouchers that would cover the cost on market-rate units that such tenants would be otherwise unable to afford. Although a similar program already exists through Section 8 vouchers, the Housing Access Voucher Program would be the first of its kind to include protection for undocumented Americans as well. The bill aims to distribute vouchers equally between housing insecure renters and homeless New Yorkers. Its proponents hope that providing direct housing assistance will ease the burden on shelters and provide protection to to homeless.
Housing advocates goals are two-fold: both preserving affordable housing for current tenants and preventing speculative investments that, advocates say, will accelerate gentrification in a few years, when the crisis has passed.