New York Daily News: Sen. Gianaris, housing advocates want $2 billion in New York budget for back rent

Originally published in New York Daily News on February 01, 2021.

ALBANY — Housing advocates and a top Senate Democrat have a $2.2 billion plan to help struggling tenants and small landlords.

Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) and tenant groups are calling on Gov. Cuomo to set aside the hefty sum in the state budget to clear back rent that has built up during the COVID crisis.

In a letter being sent to the governor’s office, obtained by the Daily News on Sunday, Gianaris argues for the creation of a fund that would allow eligible landlords to be paid for rent arrears and clear the debt of roughly 1.3 million households unable to make months of missed payments.

“New York has spent the last year in the midst of a public health and economic crisis,” Gianaris said. “If we don’t take action now, we will also fall into a housing and eviction crisis.”

While the state has taken steps to extend eviction moratoriums through the spring, many tenants fear what will happen when months of back rent come due.

On Monday, advocates and tenants associated with Housing Justice for All and other groups were set to echo Gianaris’ message and also call for $500 million in state funds to be set aside to help end homelessness. They also want to see the State Legislature enact permanent protections against evictions amid the pandemic.

The $2 billion-plus price tag for what’s being called a Housing Stability Relief Fund is based on an analysis by research firm Stout and could be covered by federal funds, advocates argue.

Cuomo has presented a pair of budget proposals, one based on the state receiving $15 billion in money from Washington and another, dubbed a “worst-case scenario,” in which New York only gets $6 billion in COVID aid from the feds.

The Legislature must approve a state budget by April 1.

Should the Biden administration and Congress fail to come through on much-needed federal dollars, the state should consider increasing taxes on the wealthy to cover the cost of the rent relief fund, Gianaris said.

“Whether funds come from the federal government or new sources of state revenue, we must include rent relief in this year’s state budget because tenants deserve peace of mind and small landlords should be made whole,” he said.

Cuomo budget spokesman Freeman Klopott touted the governor’s actions on evictions and said New York leaders need to work together to ensure the Empire State gets its fair share from Washington “rather than pushing policies that will undermine our competitiveness and ability to recover.”

“This administration has supported our tenants even before the pandemic with a $20 billion affordable housing plan, and is advancing a $1.3 billion rent relief program that will further bolster rent protections the Governor has implemented since the start of the pandemic, including eviction moratoriums,” he said.

Read the full article at the New York Daily News here.