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Budget Shores Up $2.4B For N.Y. Rent Relief, But Critics Point To 'Unclear' Language

The New York State Capitol Building in Albany

The New York State Senate passed its overdue budget late Tuesday, setting out more than $5B to be spent on housing. 

The $212B budget deal set aside a total of $5.2B in capital investments and expenditures for housing and services for renters, the homeless and homeowners, according to Senate Committee on Housing, Construction and Community Development Chair Brian Kavanagh. It includes the finalization of the Emergency Rental Assistance program, totaling $2.4B — including $2.3B in federal funds and an extra $100M in state dollars.

“The budget we passed, after extensive, at times difficult, negotiations, is a huge step forward in our immediate efforts to mitigate the hardships New Yorkers have endured during the COVID-19 pandemic and a downpayment on our long-term commitment to ensuring that no New Yorker is denied the right to a secure, stable, affordable home,” Kavanagh said in a release.

Landlord groups and housing advocates alike had been watching closely for details on the rent relief, as reports have emerged that some owners are refusing to take federal funds because they come with too many restrictions.

New York's funds allow for both landlords and renters to apply for support, though there is no requirement that property owners accept the aid. If they do, however, they will be banned from pursuing evictions and increasing rents for one year, per The Real Deal.

The support can be used for a year of rent arrears if the back rent was due anytime after March 13, 2020. An extra three months will be made available for tenants who are rent-burdened. Tenants may self-attest their eligibility, and a landlord who doesn't take the funds within a year can’t go after the unpaid rent through legal proceedings.

The Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance is legally required to try and get eligible landlords to comply, per TRD, but owners will only have 180 days to accept the relief. 

Jay Martin, the executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, said in a statement that the group welcomed the fact that it was a "thorough rejection" of the deeply feared #CancelRent approach. He said the group is pushing the OTDA to quickly implement the program so renters get help within weeks.

“There is some language in the bill that we believe is unclear, specifically in regard to nuisance claims where a tenant is threatening the health and well being of fellow tenants. If not clarified, we fear it could delay the federal relief money getting into the pockets of those who need it,” he said. “We urge the legislature to make necessary changes to some ambiguous language, which will help OTDA more quickly get the program up and running, and will also eliminate confusion in Housing Court in the future.”

Alongside the rental assistance, there is also $100M in the budget allocated for the Division of Housing and Community Renewal to help convert distressed hotels and other buildings into affordable housing and $200M for the New York City Housing Authority for capital repairs and renovation.

Meanwhile, $1.4B for the development of Penn Station was approved with the caveat it not be for above-ground development, throwing cold water on plans for 10 state-funded towers in the area. 

The budget also ushered in increased taxes on the wealthy, much to the business and real estate communities’ dismay. On a state level, new personal income tax brackets would be formulated, seeing those earning between $5M and $25M paying 10.3%, and those with an income of over $25M paying 10.9%. Those making in excess of $1M will see their personal income tax rate go up to 9.65% from 8.25%.