NO DANGLING ROTTEN CARROTS!
Several New York legislators are backing a proposal that would afford landlords access to $2.25 billion, in exchange for providing rent relief to their tenants.
Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris is calling for this program to be funded with revenue from the federal government or from increased taxes on wealthy New Yorkers. He noted, “New York has spent the last year in the midst of a public health and economic crisis. If we don’t take action now, we will also fall into a housing and eviction crisis.” He continued, “Whether funds come from the federal government or new sources of state revenue, we must include rent relief in this year’s state budget because tenants deserve peace of mind and small landlords should be made whole.”
A recent letter from legislators to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie noted, “A landlord-hardship fund can ensure that mom-and-pop landlords and not-for-profit housing providers are prioritized for aid . . . [The measure will help in] providing much-needed relief to our mom-and-pop landlords—not bailing out Blackstone.”
Tenant advocates have expressed support for this idea. “While we have long advocated that rent forgiveness must come with financial support to real estate to pay the back rent, it is a stronger and a better approach for landlords to apply for aid directly to maintain their properties while tenants receive a universal benefit to clear the back rent,” said Cea Weaver of Housing Justice for All. “Recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic will require a deep investment in housing. We need to not only clear the back rent with a $2.2 billion relief fund, but we need to invest millions in ending homelessness this year.”
Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP), a landlord lobby group, is less optimistic. “The federal rent assistance needs to be focused on going to renters in need … this scheme being floated in the legislature doesn't do that,” said Jay Martin, CHIP’s Executive Director. “It is a political ploy to advance the radical idea of decommodifying housing, which is why the majority of mom-and-pop housing providers don't support it. If the legislature takes this approach, the people who will suffer will be low-income tenants.”
The Governor’s budget office has noted that the state has already made commitments to provide housing relief. However, a report from the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) reveals that only $40 million of the $100 million federally allocated funds for emergency rent relief were ever distributed because of the program’s strict eligibility requirement; most applicants did not receive any assistance. “I can’t think of a single person I know who qualified,” said Crown Heights Tenant Union organizer Esteban Girón. “It’s like dangling a carrot in front of our face that we can’t have. The program was a total failure.”