Columns

Government Can Provide Much Needed Assistance for Landlords and Tenants

Debt in Coronavirus COVID-19 crisis, people have no money to pay for loan and getting broke concept, businessman holding hammer run to hit piggy bank, dollar coin money with Coronavirus pathogen.
©Nuthawut

Nobody was prepared for the economic crisis that has developed due to this unprecedented pandemic. As a result, New York City renters, small homeowners and rental property owners are faced with extreme financial difficulties. National and local jobless claims are reaching historic levels, surpassing the Great Depression. Residential and commercial tenants are struggling, and that has a ripple effect on building owners. If rents are not paid, then property taxes, water bills and mortgages cannot be paid. The city’s economy suffers, and the health of the city’s already aging housing stock takes a hit.

In New York City, political rhetoric is often prioritized over sound policies, and many of our elected officials immediately called for the complete elimination of rental payments without thinking of the consequences it would have on buildings. The real solution actually requires less politics and more sound policy.

For the sake of advancing political agendas, “no rent” sounds better than rental relief or subsidies. However, simple logic must prevail. A rent moratorium without aid to the building owners is a prescription for disaster, especially when our members and their employees are working harder than ever to keep buildings clean and safe for tenants. Yet you never hear of an elected official calling for sympathy or assistance to landlords.

Now is not the time to play politics. We must act now. Treating housing, especially buildings with regulated apartments, differently from any other industry in need of assistance is clumsy politics ruining deliberate policy discussions. Just like any other form of business, when no money is coming in, bills cannot be paid.

The state budget passed without immediate assistance for tenants or building owners. The focus should now be on the federal government. A $2 trillion stimulus package will provide one-time payments to taxpayers, enhanced unemployment assistance and relief for small businesses. But it will not be enough.

Tenants are losing their jobs, which means there is no money coming in at all. Not only is the rent due, but other living expenses must be met. One-time cash payments and unemployment assistance will help, but can only do so much. It is crucial that the federal government strongly considers temporary rental relief with rent vouchers, which will provide low-income tenants and tenants who have lost their jobs with the help they need: the ability to pay rent.

Rent vouchers eliminate the politics. Rents are paid and building expenses are met. It’s that simple. When building expenses are met, adequate housing is provided to tenants. Direct payments and unemployment assistance can then allow tenants to focus on their other bills and put food on the table for their families.

As the pandemic worsened, RSA opened dialogue with state and city officials, highlighting the importance of property tax and water bill forgiveness. Despite the constant calls to eliminate rent payments, aside from existing loan and grant opportunities for small businesses in the city, there has been no assistance provided to residential tenants and building owners on the state level.

April rents were barely met, and we should certainly expect a dropoff on subsequent rent payments. Now is the time to act. Relief that will keep tenants in their homes and allow owners to continue everyday business can and must be a priority. Rent vouchers will allow building owners to meet their property tax obligations, which alone makes up 30% to 40% of their rent roll, and are vital to both the city and state at a time when their budgets are taking a massive hit.

This is a unique opportunity for the federal government to provide assistance to keep owners and tenants afloat.

Joseph Strasburg
Rent Stabilization Association
123 William Street, Number 12
New York, NY 10038
(212) 214-9200