NEW YORK, NY — Over the last year, millions of New Yorkers have fallen behind on rent as unemployment skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. 92,000 New Yorkers who were homeless before COVID-19 are living in unsafe settings and dying from the virus at a rate 78% higher than our housed neighbors. The housing crisis which existed before the pandemic has been made more acute.
It is thanks to the tireless organizing of tenants and homeless New Yorkers that the State Senate one-house budget includes billions of dollars in aid for renters who have fallen behind during the pandemic and key components of what we have been calling for for over a year. In particular, we are pleased to see explicit support for undocumented immigrants in the proposed rent relief program; $400 million in State funding for rent relief beyond the federal stimulus support; and eviction protections/protections against rent increases that will last beyond the immediate pandemic period. The State Senate has taken meaningful steps towards ending homelessness with the inclusion of $200 Million for the Housing Access Voucher Program (HAVP) and $250 Million for the Housing Our Neighbors with Dignity Program.
Yet we remain deeply concerned.The Assembly one-house budget pales in comparison to the State Senate’s proposal. It does not meaningfully address homelessness; excluding our homeless neighbors, undocumented homeless New Yorkers, and others suffering from housing insecurity. Homelessness is not a talking point; it is a life-or-death situation for 92,000 people. The State legislature must pass and fund the Housing Access Voucher Program this year.
We know from experience — just this last summer with the COVID-19 rent relief program — that onerous application processes leave out our most vulnerable neighbors. Attestation forms, as laid out in the Senate and Assembly proposals as an option of last resort, should instead be the first and only requirement of tenants to apply and receive aid.
Eviction protections and protections against rent increases must last longer than one year. Finally, the rent relief program relies almost exclusively on one-time federal resources. Unemployment and the economic crisis of the pandemic will last far beyond this emergency period. Recovery will take sustained resources and investment, which this bill does not provide.
The one-house budget released by the Senate is the floor, and not the ceiling. In the coming weeks, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Speaker Carl Heastie must leverage their supermajorities to break with Governor Cuomo and deliver a just and equitable state budget that works for tenants and homeless New Yorkers across the State.