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Legislators Push NY Assembly Speaker To Forgive Rent Debt, Make Landlords Apply For Aid


Dozens of New York State Assembly members are asking their leader to prioritize a budget measure that would eliminate rent debt for tenants and put the onus on landlords to apply for government relief.

Speaker of the Assembly Carl Heastie received a letter from his colleagues last week requesting he support a plan for rent forgiveness and a $2.25B fund that the state could allocate to landlords it deemed needed it, The Real Deal reported.

“A landlord-hardship fund can ensure that mom-and-pop landlords and not-for-profit housing providers are prioritized for aid,” the letter says, according to TRD. “[The measure will help in] providing much-needed relief to our mom-and-pop landlords — not bailing out Blackstone.”

The landlord lobby group Community Housing Improvement Program, which counts mom-and-pop landlords and larger owners among its members, claims the measure will not help small landlords or tenants.

"The federal rent assistance needs to be focused on going to renters in need …  this scheme being floated in the legislature doesn't do that,” CHIP Executive Director Jay Martin said in a statement to Bisnow. “It is a political ploy to advance the radical idea of decommodifying housing, which is why the majority of mom-and-pop housing providers don't support it. If the legislature takes this approach, the people who will suffer will be low-income tenants."  

Tenants in New York have accrued billions of dollars of rent debt over the past year, totaling a figure that likely surpasses the $1.3B that the federal government allocated to New York in Congress’ second coronavirus relief package.

Tenant advocates argue that rent cancellation is the only way to address the debt. 

“While we have long advocated that rent forgiveness must come with financial support to real estate to pay the back rent, it is a stronger and a better approach for landlords to apply for aid directly to maintain their properties while tenants receive a universal benefit to clear the back rent,” Cea Weaver told TRD earlier this month.

Meanwhile, $60M of the $100M federally allocated funds earmarked for rent relief in the CARES Act from last spring has gone undistributed, The City reported. Only 16% of those who applied to the program received relief as of October. 

“I can’t think of a single person I know who qualified,” Crown Heights Tenant Union organizer Esteban Girón told The City in November. “It’s like dangling a carrot in front of our face that we can’t have. The program was a total failure.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who must sign off on the budget for it to be passed without a veto-override, has voiced opposition to variations of the wholesale cancellation of rent debts, and it is unclear if the proposal will make it to his desk as part of the budget process, a separate bill, or at all.