An Extraordinary Session in Albany
This past week, I traveled to Albany for an extraordinary session called by Governor Hochul.
In session, I was proud to vote to extend our state’s eviction moratorium as well as relax the open meetings law to allow meetings to be conducted remotely until January 15, 2022. These measures have now been signed into law by the Governor.
The eviction moratorium, which expired on August 31, was extended to ensure that residential and commercial tenants financially impacted by COVID-19 will not be evicted, particularly as cases surge once again. The legislation also extended the suspension of mortgage and tax foreclosures to protect landlords and homeowners impacted by COVID-19.
In August, the US Supreme Court blocked part of our state’s previous eviction moratorium, ruling that the self-attestation standard that was established for a tenant to prove a financial hardship lacked due process for the landlord. In our moratorium passed on September 1, this issue has been addressed by creating a mechanism for landlords to challenge a hardship declaration.
In my district, I have been working with renters who were terrified that once the eviction moratorium expired, they would be evicted. Across the state, many tenants unable to make complete rent payments have found themselves in the same position. These tenants are not taking advantage of the eviction moratorium in order to accumulate wealth. They, like thousands of others, are hardworking New Yorkers who lost their jobs or family members through no fault of their own. And they need our help.
Their landlords also need our help – particularly the small mom and pop landlords. I have heard from many in my district. These individuals do not have the benefit of large building portfolios to insulate them against the loss of income and they don’t have the influence, access and representation that many of the large, corporate landlords enjoy. With the rent rolls diminished, small landlords are struggling to pay their bills and maintain their buildings. That’s why it’s vital that the Emergency Rental Assistance Program work quickly and efficiently to get desperately needed relief money into the hands of those who need it most.
Included in yesterday’s legislation was an additional $300 million in funding for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program to help pay outstanding rental arrears. Some localities in the state originally chose to opt out of the state ERAP program, instead operating their own rental assistance program. This new legislation will allow residents of these areas to apply for the state program once their locality has exhausted their funds.
I was also thrilled that $25 million was included to ensure tenants have legal representation in eviction proceedings. I introduced legislation in 2016 to create a universal statewide right to counsel for tenants in housing courts because one of the most important factors in determining whether a tenant is evicted or can stay in their home is whether they are represented by an attorney.
These changes, coupled with $150 million in additional funds for landlords who have tenants above 80% of AMI or who have already vacated with arrears, enhanced due process protections for landlords and the expanded eviction moratorium will provide robust protections for all.
In addition to these protections for tenants, homeowners and business owners, I was proud to vote to expand our state’s open meetings law. During the pandemic, our community boards relied on the ability to conduct their meetings virtually in order to keep everyone safe. However, since the COVID-19 state of emergency was lifted earlier this summer, meeting virtually has not been an option. Our public bodies must continue their important work and individuals should not have to risk their health in order to participate. This legislation will provide them the ability to once again conduct meetings virtually until January 15, 2022.