Reach every rent-poor New Yorker – New York Daily News
The recently passed New York State budget included many laudable initiatives, including $ 800 million in one-time funding for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program and $ 125 million for the Landlord Rental Assistance Program. Both programs have proven effective in staving off evictions. But there is much more to be done.
In the 1990s, the Jiggetts housing decision established a New York State policy that public assistance housing grants should cover the cost of rent. This is a sensible policy, even though its implementation often failed to meet the goals and further court action was necessary. We now need to take the next step of establishing a solid New York State rent floor under hard-working New Yorkers who earn less than 50% of the median income area ($ 66,700 for a family of four). These families should not be made “rent poor” because they have to pay more than 30% of their household income for rent.
Before the pandemic began, half of all New York City renters paid more than 30% of their income to rent, according to the NYU Furman Center. For extremely low-income renters, nearly 70% were severely rent-burdened and dedicated more than half of their income to rent. The pandemic has continued to exacerbate this growing problem. Recently, the NYC Rent Guidelines Board’s formula yielded a recommendation for a 4.5% hike for one-year leases and a 9% hike for two-year leases. As rental costs continue to rise, many more households will become rent poor.
The rental crisis has also proliferated outside the five boroughs, with approximately 25% of all renters statewide paying more than 30% of their income for rent, and an additional 21% paying more than 50% of their income for rent, according to a 2021 analysis from the state comptroller’s office.
Rent burdens lead to rent poverty, and that leads to family homelessness. As Housing Courts have reopened and the state’s eviction moratorium has expired, thousands of New Yorkers are on the heels of a catastrophic event that could upend them. The Office of Temporary Disability Assistance received approximately 2,000 applications in just the first four days after the eviction moratorium ended.
There is one New York State housing assistance policy change that is the next logical step to deal with the affordable housing crisis.
Through a combination of grants and tax credits, the state should insist that New Yorkers earning less than 50% of the median income area not pay more than 30% of their earnings toward rent, mirroring the similar threshold of the very effective federal Section 8 program . Establishing a Section 8-like 30% threshold can make our state more affordable for those who struggle to make ends meet and avoid the Hobson’s choice of rent or food.
We got very close in the FY ’23 state budget with the proposed Housing Access Voucher Program. With backing from tenant and landlord groups, including the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, the HAVP received support from leaders in both the New York State Senate and Assembly. But the program failed to make it into the budget when concerns surfaced around the potential price tag.
Next year we should try again, but with an addition. Besides direct subsidies, we should also include tax credits and deductions to reduce rental burdens on hardworking New Yorkers with modest incomes. The tax code has long been an instrument of housing policy incentives, from the deductibility of mortgage interest to low-income tax credits. Let’s take the next step of eliminating rent poverty for New Yorkers.
Stop-gap measures are not enough. We need a firm New York State rental housing policy that is specifically aimed at low and moderate-income families who are severely rent-burdened, and at risk of becoming “rent poor.” Across the state, New Yorkers would benefit from a paradigm shift in how we shape housing rental policy. One thing that this crippling pandemic has re-enforced, is that the problem of affordable housing is not going away. Let’s take the next step: a policy that says: “No rent poor New Yorker!”.
Sullivan is the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York.