City Limits: A Wave of Legislation Aimed at Renters and Small Biz

Originally published in City Limits on June 11, 2020.

Sen. Brian Kavanagh, chairman of the State Senate’s Committee on Housing, Construction and Community Development, has sponsored two bills responding to the crisis.

On June 11, 2020, City Limits published a story that covers many of the bills that were in the legislative package recently passed by the Senate and the Assembly to address the COVID-19 crisis, including several that seek to keep people secure in their homes and begin to address the difficulties many New Yorkers are facing in covering their housing costs. The article cites two bills sponsored by Senator Kavanagh: the Emergency Rent Relief Act and bill S8243C, which extends and strengthens the obligations of state-regulated financial institutions to offer mortgage forbearance to homeowners experiencing a hardship.

The full text of the story is below; the original version is available via the link above.
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A Wave of Legislation Aimed at Renters and Small Biz
By Sadef Ali Kully
June 11, 2020

On Monday New York City began phase one of four-phase reopening on the 100th day of the novel coronavirus epidemic. Housing and small business advocacy groups are still assessing the damage done by the crisis, which is far from over for renters who are out of work and businesses that are still shut down or starved for customers.

Over the past four months, city and state lawmakers have introduced and in several cases passed legislation that could assist tenants, landlords and small businesses. As much as the reopening is testing whether or not New Yorkers can avoid a second wave of illnesses, it will also reveal whether the steps taken so far are all the help that’s needed.

The stakes

According to a recent NYU Furman Center analysis, New Yorkers are heavily relying on state and federal funding to pay their rent, and without rental assistance many low income households may not be able to pay their next bill from the landlord.

The federal CARES Act provides some protection for renters who lost income due to COVID-19 and claim state’s Unemployment Insurance Assistance (UI). New Yorkers who apply for the state unemployment benefits get enhanced benefits from the CARES Act of an additional $600 per week. 

“Without Enhanced Benefits, however, the scale of monthly rental assistance needed to help lower income households may reach up to between $391 and $516 million per month starting in August, depending on job recovery rates,” Furman found. “Additionally, a subset of households who are left out of CARES Act assistance programs may have a cumulative rent need of about $475 million between March and July. A disproportionate share of the workers at risk of housing instability and nonpayment are Black and Hispanic, as evidenced by their over-representation in occupations that have faced higher rates of job loss.”

The additional $600 per week is known as the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation in the CARES Act, and expires on July 31 this year. 

“So the week after August 1st, the households that were getting an extra hundreds of dollars a week are not going to get that,” said Matthew Murphy, the Executive Director of the NYU Furman Center. “And that’s where we’re saying, this is a cliff that’s coming up and it is actually really dramatic.” Murphy says Republicans in Washington D.C. want to end the enhanced benefits rather than extending them in the next coronavirus-related bill. 

Currently in New York State, there is an eviction and foreclosure moratorium for residential and commercial tenants and landlords. The state Department of Financial Services is authorized to provide 90-day mortgage relief to mortgage borrowers impacted by the crisis; that help includes a mortgage payment waiver;  a block on negative reporting to credit bureaus; a grace period for loan modification; no late payment fees or online payment fees; and the postponing or suspending foreclosures. For renters, the state has also banned late payments or fees for missed rent payments during the eviction moratorium, and allowed renters facing financial hardship due to COVID-19 to use their security deposit as payment and repay their security deposit over time.

Housing policies: what’s passed

At the city level, one bill enacted last month, Intro 1936-A, sponsored by Councilmember Ritchie Torres and Speaker Corey Johnson, expands the definition of tenant harassment to include threats against an individual based on their status as a COVID-19 impacted person, their status as an essential employee, or their receipt of a rental concession or forbearance. Violators will be punishable by a civil penalty of $2,000 to $10,000.

In the state Senate a set of housing bills is awaiting Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature. The Emergency Rent Relief Act, S8419, sponsored by Senator Brian Kavanagh, immediately directs $100 million from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund towards emergency rental vouchers to assist some of the tenants with the greatest need. This bill is a key first step toward meeting the much larger need for rental assistance for a broad range of tenants across the state–but just a step.

Another bill for renters, S8192B, sponsored by Senator Brad Hoylman, permanently prevents unpaid rent that accrued during the COVID-19 emergency from being the basis for an eviction of any tenant who experienced hardship during the emergency.

For senior homeowners or disabled homeowners, S8122B, sponsored by Senator Leroy Comrie, extends the deadline for the filing of new and renewal applications for real property tax abatement programs, such as the Senior Citizen Homeowners’ Exemption program. This bill has been signed by Governor Cuomo.

Housing policies: what’s pending

In the City Council, Councilmember Margaret Chin plans later this month on introducing legislation which will require the city’s Department of Finance to offer deferral agreements on property tax liability on real property with an assessed value exceeding $250,000 owned by certain property owners impacted by COVID-19. Public Advocate Jumaane Williams has co sponsored this legislation. 

At the State Capitol, the Senate is considering S8243C, sponsored by Kavanagh, which would extend the period of time when mortgage forbearance payments come due, for mortgages issued or serviced by New York state regulated institutions. This gives borrowers the option to either defer their payments to the end of the loan term, or spread out deferred payments over the life of the loan.  Interest and late fees are waived during the forbearance period.

Another bill, S8138B, sponsored by Senator Monica Martinez, will allow localities and school districts to defer certain taxes, including property taxes, during a declared state disaster emergency.

Lastly, a bill for both homeowners and tenants, S8113A, sponsored by Senator Kevin Parker, would place a moratorium on utility companies terminating services during periods of pandemics and/or state of emergencies.

Help for small biz?

During a recent Center for an Urban Future panel discussion advocates, discussed the obstacles small business owners are facing, like applying for the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), enrolling in city-based assistance programs or bringing back their business as the state and city move forward with reopening.  

In Harlem, Tren’ness Woods-Black, VP at Sylvia’s Restaurant, said during the panel that one of the hardest things for her to do was handing out the last of the paychecks before they shut down. Mohamed Attia of the Street Vendor Project said he was worried about street vendors who do not qualify for most of the public financial benefits due to their immigration status and the risks they face as essential businesses. 

Policymakers have more to do in the coming weeks ahead in order to ensure “the city’s economic recovery is inclusive and equitable,” said the spokesperson Center for Urban Future in an email. “One clear step should be to support the city’s minority- and immigrant-owned businesses, which have been disproportionately devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.”

Advocates said the city was showing initiative but should also consider other options such as opening streets and public spaces for commerce such as opening up streets, sidewalks, plazas, and even public parks to neighborhood restaurants, retailers, and street vendors; ensuring government programs reach minority- and immigrant-owned businesses, partnering with Community Development Financial Institutions and other community-based organizations; providing commercial rent relief; pushing city agencies, FEMA, hospitals, and universities to buy from local businesses; helping small businesses access the assistance that already exists and including street vendors in recovery plans.   

A raft of programs and proposals

Last month, the City Council, voted on a package of five bills that would protect small businesses impacted by the novel Coronavirus pandemic. The mayor signed those bills into law on May 26. The first law caps the amount of commission a third-party delivery service such as Seamless or Caviar is allowed to charge at 15 percent per order for delivery and 5 percent per order for other types of charges. Violators could be subject to civil penalties of up to $1,000 per restaurant per day. This bill would remain in effect for the duration of any state of emergency and an additional 90 days thereafter.

The second law would prevent third-party delivery platforms from charging restaurants for telephone orders that did not result in a transaction. Another law suspends sidewalk cafe fees across the five boroughs during the pandemic. 

The fourth law will protect commercial tenants against harassment as a result of being a COVID-19 impacted business. Violators are subject to harassment punishable by a civil penalty of $10,000 to $50,000. Another similar law would prevent commercial landlords from liability provisions of small business owners and their personal assets by temporarily suspending personal liability provisions in leases for COVID-19 impacted businesses.

The last law would require the city administration to publish a list of licenses, permits, consents or registrations not covered by the renewal extension of de Blasio’s emergency state order (Executive order 107).

The state has also introduced a program, New York Forward Loan Fund, to help small businesses, focusing on minority and women owned small businesses that did not receive federal Covid-19 assistance. The program has $100 million which will be distributed to businesses with 20 or fewer employees; loans can range from $500 to $100,000 and will be made available to small businesses, small landlords, and nonprofits that have seen a loss of income or revenue, and face barriers to reopening from upfront expenses to comply with new safety guidelines. The application process began on May 26. 

In the state Senate a set of housing bills recently have passed the state Senate and Assembly and/or are awaiting Cuomo’s signature. Two Senate bills have passed the Senate and are awaiting an Assembly vote,  S.7350 and S.7355A, both require state and federal agencies to create easier pathways to information and assistance for small businesses.

Awaiting Assembly action is bill, S.7357, sponsored by Senator Anna Kaplan, which would direct five state agencies, (Departments of Agriculture & Markets, Environmental Conservation, Transportation, Labor and Taxation & Finance) to appoint a small business liaison to serve as the primary contact for businesses looking to interact with the agency. Also in need of an Assembly vote is S.2839A, which would require the state to give additional reporting on the potential negative effects that new rules or regulations could have on jobs and employment opportunities. The Small Business Compliance Guide bill, S.6800A, sponsored by Senator Jen Metzger, would require ESD to provide an annual small business compliance guide outlining various rules, regulations and laws is awaiting Assembly action.  

The Senate has also passed another funding program, the Small Business Regional Revolving Fund (S.844A, sponsored by Senator Brian Benjamin), which would provide loans for microenterprises and refinance existing loans, and is awaiting Assembly action. The Excelsior Linked Deposit Program Cap bill (S.6165, sponsored by Senator James Sanders Jr.) would increase the lifetime cap on the total amount a borrower can borrow under the Excelsior Linked Deposit Program (ELDP) from $2 million to $5 million. The ELDP assists existing firms access reduced-rate financing and those eligible businesses can obtain loans from commercial banks, savings banks, savings and loan associations, farm credit institutions and the New York Business Development Corporation. This bill is also waiting on the state Assembly to take action. 

Lastly, the Small Business Crime Prevention Services bill, S.7123, sponsored by Senator Roxanne Persaud, would create a small business crime prevention services program to provide small businesses with resources to prevent crimes affecting small businesses. This bill is awaiting the state Assembly to take action. 

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