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The COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act & The NY Rent Crisis

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By now, New York’s perilous rent situation is clear to many: more and more tenants simply cannot afford to pay rent. They won’t be able to pay any time soon; and, despite moratoria extensions, their time is running out. The newest effort to buy New York tenants time, the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act, continues the trend of ‘stalling’ in lieu of more decisive state action. Federal action, however, has brought New York $1.3 billion explicitly for rent relief through the second stimulus package. [1] As such, New York’s new COVID-19 bill may indeed work in tandem with other efforts to halt the oncoming and growing surge of evictions somewhat effectively. 

What is clear now, however, is the fact that the bill primarily operates as an extension as opposed to a relief effort. The onus remains on tenants, despite being touted as the bill with “the strongest residential eviction protections” of any state. [2] Consider the fact that the Prevention Act’s key provision is a mere offering of 60 days for tenants to pay back months of back rent themselves — mid-pandemic, in a struggling economy. Though pivotal, and drastically needed, such a provision stops short of addressing the issue in full and when March comes around, so too will the consequences of this untreated problem. 

It’s important to consider what this impending scenario will look like and what its consequences will entail. First, millions of tenants will be at risk of eviction nationwide. At the end of last year, the National Council of State Housing Agencies estimated that $3.4 billion in back rent had piled up and would continue to pile up at an alarming rate, already dwarfing New York’s $1.3 billion in federal rent relief. [3] This is a two-sided issue, with both tenants and landlords bearing the weight of unpaid dues. Tenants are, of course, at risk of losing shelter at a time when it is most needed. Landlords, on the other hand, are left with lost cash flows, devalued properties, and the unfair task of subsidizing tenancies where possible. [4] The government should bear the responsibility of subsidizing in a time of crisis, not hard-hit, small residential landlords. One would expect that a bill with “the strongest residential eviction protections” of any state might account for this equally affected group. 

What we need is a safety net, not just more time. A host of facts make it stunningly clear that by March, these problems will simply not be ironed out. The response to this cannot simply be to allow those who have not been able to personally recover from global financial hardship to suffer a fate that only further increases the unlikelihood of personal financial recovery. The federal government, at the end of what has been an unnecessarily arduous process, is working to construct such a safety net. Unfortunately, however, the numbers ($1.3 vs. $3.4 billion) indicate that these efforts will fall short of preventative. 

Tenants and landlords cannot be expected to pick up the slack for the simple reason that those whom the bill protects are those most financially burdened by COVID-19. COVID-19 is still here, and so too are its concomitant financial burdens. As such, it is counterproductive to expect that tenants who have not been able to pay rent for months will suddenly possess the means to do so — in some cases, tenfold. It is similarly counterproductive to assume that landlords, who have not received these payments for months, will suddenly be in a position in which these payments are no longer direly needed.

There are some in the New York legislature who have realized this impending issue, have listened to tenant advocacy groups, and, in response, have pushed for legislation that would effectively cancel all residential rent and certain mortgage payments statewide. [5] Such legislation is still under review, and is being met with fierce opposition from landlord advocacy groups which argue that it would shift the financial burden of COVID-19 entirely onto landlords. Though, discussion of landlord and public housing authorities reimbursement is underway, as well. [6] In any case, these efforts promise more of a preventive and mitigating effect than current legislation. 

Sources:

[1] – Schumer, Charles, “Schumer Details Impact of Just-Passed COVID Relief Deal to Upstate New York,” 21 Dec. 2020, https://www.schumer.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/schumer-details-impact-of-just-passed-covid-relief-deal-to-upstate-new-york-bipartisan-spending-package-delivers-more-than-54-billion-to-ny-workers-families-renters-and-small-businesses-includes-direct-funding-to-state-government_ny-vaccine-funds, accessed 13 Jan. 2021.

[2] – Spizak, Caroline, “Most New York Evictions Have Been Deferred Until May – and It’s a Relief,” Curbed, 29 Dec. 2020, https://www.curbed.com/2020/12/new-york-evictions-banned-until-may-rent-relief.html, accessed 13 Jan. 2021.

[3] – Ibid.

[4] – Demsas, Jerusalem, “We know how to prevent up to 40 million people from being evicted. It’s up to Congress to do it.,” Vox, 27 Nov. 2020, https://www.vox.com/21569601/eviction-moratorium-cdc-covid-19-congress-rental-assistance-rent-crisis, accessed 13 Jan. 2021.

[5] – Whitford, Emma, “NY Bill Would Cancel Rent, Mortgages For Virus Plus 90 Days,” Law360, 13 Jul. 2020, https://www.law360.com/articles/1291208/ny-bill-would-cancel-rent-mortgages-for-virus-plus-90-days, accessed 14 Jan. 2021.

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