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.”

One thought 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.

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