Housing advocates pressure lawmakers to ban no-cause evictions, rent increases

Memo calls for expansion of proposed rent relief programs in Senate, Assembly budgets

Carl Heastie and Andrea Stewart-Cousins. (Getty)
Carl Heastie and Andrea Stewart-Cousins. (Getty)

A ban on no-cause evictions and rent increases are among the latest tenant protections housing advocates are calling for in the state’s budget.

With less than two weeks until the budget deadline, Housing Justice for All and the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition are calling on lawmakers to go further than the rent relief proposals they rolled out last week. Specifically, the groups want the budget to bar no-cause evictions and rent increases for five years after landlords receive back-rent.

Last Sunday, the Senate and Assembly released their one-house budget resolutions, providing a snapshot of each chamber’s priorities as they head into negotiations. Language in the proposals around the administration of federal and state rent relief closely follows a measure sponsored by Sen. Brian Kavanagh and Assembly member Steven Cymbrowitz, which would cover rental arrears for up to 15 months for struggling tenants. The relief program would prioritize renters making less than 50 percent of the area median income and tenants who applied jointly with their landlords.

The Senate proposal would prevent landlords receiving rent relief from evicting tenants for nonpayment and from increasing rent for one year after receiving assistance. It also includes a voucher program similar to Section 8 for low-income and homeless individuals.

Cea Weaver, who leads the Housing Justice for All coalition, said she’s glad the Senate proposal met advocates halfway, but the groups are still pushing for a model of relief in which rent debt is automatically forgiven, and landlords must apply for the $2.7 billion in state and federal relief. The groups are seeking forgiveness for rent accrued during the pandemic, plus 90 days.

“We have very present in our minds the failure of the last rent relief program,” she said, referring to the state’s initial relief effort, which was slow to release funds to tenants. “We don’t want to see another horrendous program that is just unworkable.”

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Ana Galvez, a tenant leader with Community Action for Safe Apartments, said creating a mechanism to clear rent debt would help ensure that undocumented tenants aren’t left out of relief programs.

Jay Martin, CHIP, said the proposals will only “sabotage the rent relief from getting out the door,” since both chambers largely seem to support Kavanagh’s bill. He said it doesn’t make sense to penalize struggling landlords for an additional five years, when they have already provided housing without receiving payment during the pandemic.

“It doesn’t make sense to take this broad approach unless your goal is to financially destabilize the market,” he said.

In a memo released Monday, housing advocates also called for the relief program to prioritize landlords who own two- to four-unit buildings. The groups also support the creation of a state fund to acquire distressed multifamily properties and provide tenants with the first opportunity to convert housing to community land trusts and other social housing models.

The memo also shows support for the Senate’s proposal to permit the state to purchase vacant hotel and office buildings and convert them into permanent affordable housing. The Assembly budget resolution doesn’t include a conversion proposal.

The state’s budget is due April 1. The governor largely controls the budget process, but it is not yet clear how ongoing investigations into allegations of sexual harassment and his administration’s handling of Covid-19 nursing home deaths will affect negotiations.