New York Governor Kathy Hochul outlined a $25 billion affordable housing plan that aims to create and preserve 100,000 units of affordable housing and 10,000 supportive housing apartments, as part of her State of the State address Wednesday.
But tenant advocates said they were alarmed by Hochul’s failure to mention one of the most immediate issues facing low-income tenants — the state’s eviction moratorium, set to expire on Jan. 15. Without an extension or more relief, hundreds of thousands of financially strapped renters are in danger of losing their homes.
Avi Small, a spokesperson for Hochul, would not say if the governor supported an extension of the moratorium, but said her office was still in active negotiations with the state legislature. He added the federal government is only expected to replenish the state’s rent relief funds with $27 million — a fraction of the one billion New York had asked for, as first reported by Law360.
“Every New Yorker deserves access to affordable housing, whether they are at risk of homelessness or simply struggle to pay the rent on time each month,” Hochul said during her speech Wednesday, making no mention of the eviction moratorium or the state’s rent relief program, which has run out of funding.
The $2.2 billion pot of federal funds set aside for rent relief had already been allotted to landlords of more than 100,000 tenants, according to the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. But estimates from the National Equity Atlas through mid-October suggest 591,000 tenants still owe $1.9 billion in rental arrears in New York, despite the infusion of federal funding for rent relief.
“In the middle of a surging COVID pandemic that has left hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers drowning in rent debt, [Hochul] didn't say anything about evictions, she didn’t say anything about rental assistance,” said Cea Weaver, with Housing Justice for All. “That just means that our homeless crisis is going to get worse and worse.”
Shelly Nortz, the deputy executive director for policy with the Coalition for the Homeless, called on Hochul to extend the eviction moratorium, pointing to the 6.6% of New Yorkers still out of work, according to latest figures from the Labor Department; a number still far greater than before the pandemic hit.
“In the absence of additional funds needed to meet the extraordinary amount of pent-up demand for back rent and ongoing rent subsidies, easily in the billions of dollars, homelessness will rise rapidly in the months ahead, even as the omicron variant surges,” Nortz said.
Hochul’s $25 billion housing plan boosts funding for affordable housing creation by $5 billion and adds an additional 4,000 units of supportive housing to the agenda, up from prior commitments made by former Governor Andrew Cuomo. More specifics on how Hochul wants that funding spent will be laid out in her executive budget expected in the coming weeks.
“That’s really good, but we have 92,000 homeless New Yorkers,” said Samuel Stein, a housing policy analyst at the Community Service Society. “We need a lot more than that.”
Stein and other housing advocates pointed out Hochul’s cursory mention of the state’s public housing stock, which is in dire need of a cash infusion. And though she proposed an expansion of right to counsel for tenants across New York State, the governor didn’t mention “good cause” eviction protections, something some members of the legislature have been pushing for in recent months.
Others saw bright spots in Hochul’s housing plan. They pointed to a pilot program for permanently affordable “community-controlled housing,” similar to the idea of social housing; to her support of a law change that would make it easier to legalize dwellings in basements and garages of single family homes across the state; and to her support of changing zoning restrictions that would make it easier to convert vacant office space into affordable housing.
The latter is something Mayor Eric Adams said he was pushing for on the campaign trail. At the end of December, the outgoing City Council passed a bill establishing a task force to study the issue.
“We are really excited about everything that’s in the proposals,” said Moses Gates, an urban planner with the Regional Plan Association. “I think she’s getting ahead of the curve when it comes to really pushing good housing policy.”