In his Monday speech, Cuomo spoke vaguely about providing resources to tenants and small landlords. He made specific reference only to his proposal to outlaw fees on overdue rent—which does not address the overdue rent itself.

Sadef Kully

The scene from a June protest by Housing Justice for All. Many New Yorkers have had trouble paying the rent since the start of the pandemic, prompting calls for rent relief and better tenant protections. (Sadef Kully)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not say much about housing in Monday’s State of the State address. But housing advocates did not especially like what they heard.

At least, what they heard so far. Cuomo is rolling out his 2021 agenda in a series of speeches this week. Monday’s address was just an overview. It’s not clear whether or when the governor might say more about the housing crisis.

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, Cuomo has imposed a moratoria on residential evictions. The types of evictions covered by the bans, the process for qualifying for them, and the duration of the protection have shifted over time. Most recently, the governor signed a law to ban most evictions and protect small landlords from foreclosure for two months, and extend that ban until May 1 for renters and owners who declare that COVID-19 has caused them economic hardship.

While landlord groups have faulted some of these measures for failing to direct protection to those tenants who most needed it, and for making little provision for property owners to pay bills as rent rolls dry up, some tenant advocates have blasted Cuomo and state lawmakers for failing to “cancel rent,” and instead letting tenants accumulate rent debt that many will be unable to repay.

In his Monday speech, Cuomo spoke vaguely about providing resources to tenants and small landlords. He made specific reference only to his proposal to outlaw fees on overdue rent—which does not address the overdue rent itself.

“We have thousands of tenants and owners who lost their jobs and livelihoods through no fault of their own. We will not leave them behind. We will provide them the resources they need for rent and mortgage relief to keep New Yorkers in their homes,” Cuomo said on Monday. “And New York must do more to protect homeowners and tenants by prohibiting penalties and late charges on past rent,” he said later in the speech.

“Governor Cuomo’s proposal, announced today, to ‘waive late fees’ to address unpaid rent is a cruel joke,” Cea Weaver, coordinator of Housing Justice for All, said in a statement. “With nearly 10 months of rent due and 92,000 New Yorkers facing homelessness, we can’t wait on the federal government to act. Cuomo must work quickly with the Democratic supermajority in the state legislature to cancel the growing rent debt that many struggling tenants can’t pay, and to provide real financial assistance to small landlords facing foreclosure.”

“New York can easily afford to get this done with increased taxes on the super-wealthy,” Weaver continued. (Cuomo devoted a significant segment of his speech to dismissing the idea that taxing the rich can help New York address its fiscal challenges, but left-leaning groups challenged his math.)

Cuomo did pitch one new housing idea: “The housing problem in our cities has gotten worse. But the crisis of growing vacancies in our commercial property provides an opportunity. We should convert vacant commercial space to supportive and affordable housing and we should do it now.”

Áine Duggan, who leads the Partnership for the Homeless, said the idea of converting vacant commercial space to housing was welcome. However, she added, “[O]ur primary focus must be on keeping people in their homes today.”

“The recent federal and state eviction moratoria have shown us that the way to keep people housed is, first and foremost, not to evict them,” Duggan said in a statement. “With more than 1 million New Yorkers unable to pay rent and facing eviction as soon as the moratoria end, the immediate effort should be to avert that crisis, the effects of which would last for years into the future.”

The Legal Aid Society said the idea “sounds promising on paper, but the devil is in the details, and we need specifics on how this plan would look in reality.”

In the meantime, the group’s statement continued, “with the expiration of the eviction moratorium only months away, we call on the Governor to allocate significant funding in his budget to assist hundreds of thousands of tenants who, as a result of the pandemic, have been unable to pay rent and face homelessness.”

7 thoughts on “Cuomo’s 2021 Agenda Should Focus on Looming Evictions Crisis, Housing Advocates Say

  1. Tenants will ultimately be responsible for their back rent. A contract is a contract. No one is forgiving or delaying landlord’s property taxes, water taxes, etc. This is just a very bad situation. It’s also unconstitutional for the government to force property owners to provide free use of their property which is what the rent moratorium really is.

  2. What did you say, NYC 101? “A contract is a contract?” Well, taxes are a contract. The governor should increase taxes on the super-rich (who made considerable wealth during the past economic downturn and pandemic) and pay people’s back due rent until the economy recovers. It is Wall Street’s fault that so many have lost their jobs since 2008, and the super-rich run Wall Street. And how many even minimally-rich people rent anyway?

    It is outrageous that you claim “a contract is a contract.” It is so qualitatively different the contract to pay one’s rent made by someone making less than $72,108 (2019 average NYS income) versus someone making $250,000 (the top 5%) or 2.2 million (top 1%).

    Of course Gov. Cuomo knows this and is making excuses again for his benefactors, the top-earning New Yorkers.

    • Well, a contract is a contract. That’s the law. The ‘super-rich’ are packing up and moving to lower tax states in large numbers. Financial firms like Goldman Sachs are also heading to cheaper states. As for taxes, neither the state nor the city have postponed property taxes while renters are living for free in other people’s property as ordered by the state of New York. That is a taking under our constitution.

    • I wonder how many people on subsidized incomes who do not work and continued to receive the same amount are not able to pay their rent? Nothing has changed for them financially due to the Covid and yet they receive their same monthly checks and a stimulus, and are still not able to pay their rent? I know people who have done this in the above situation. I can understand people who were laid off due to Covid having difficulty paying their rent and that is a real problem. However, were they not able to get that unemployment compensation? It’s higher than I have ever seen, so in reality they should have been paying rent, at least a portion of it. I know several people who rent out houses and they told me that they offered their tenants relief if they needed it, none did. A person who owns houses, especially small amounts of housing, to rent is making their living by doing so. I would have been homeless for another reason back in April but my friends took me in. I was fortunate and I have empathy because that fear of not knowing where you are going to go is horrendous. The back rent should not be forgiven, an agreement between the landlord and the tenant should be undertaken. I agree when it was said above that allowing to people to stay on your property rent-free is not a good thing, because the damages, etc. that occur to the housing, if something breaks down – how is a landlord who is not receiving any money for rent, supposed to fix it? This is the problem with stimulus, I don’t think that the money goes where it was supposed to go once in the hands of people. People are getting depressed, don’t like living in isolation, and many, myself included, treat myself first for that instant gratification instead of paying off bills which have accumulated due to Covid. I had to drop my car insurance which I had for 30 years because I could not afford to pay it. My credit is destroyed because of my ex and mostly because I had no income coming in at all because my job was downsized due to no work because doctors were not seeing or operating on patients. But I will do okay and I will try to pay the stuff back. One cannot always count on the government and the 1% wealthy to take up the slack in times of need.

  3. Do you really think that the tenants taking advantage of the pandemic will ever repay one cent of owed rent once they get evicted. The none payers have laughed in my face. Mr Cuomo said we dont have to pay rent.
    Thanks for shutting down the courts for so long. You have created a hugh mess. Anger frustration and more chaos is coming your way. By the landlords you have FORCED to provide FREE living quarters FREE utilities. All will NO RENT COMING IN.
    One whole year and we are still waiting. Someone needs to put on there big boy pants and stop giving the money to the tenants. They are just spending it on themselves. Many of my tenants are not using it as intended
    Time to step up and get moving

    • I totally agree with you. We have to become responsible for our own lives. I feel for the landlords at this time. I hate characterizing a set of people as being one way or another, but I have always worked even though I had numerous surgeries to be able to keep my job, sometimes seven days a week, and I never expect anything from the government.

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