The scope and scale of the COVID-19 crisis is one that can only be adequately addressed by federal resources. The National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC)’s Rent Payment Tracker found 79.8% of apartment households made a full or partial rent payment by April 6 in its survey of 11.6 million units of professionally managed apartments across the country, as compared to 82.9% pre-pandemic. NMHC has been tracking payments throughout the pandemic. Their reporting found a direct correlation between the improvement of payment rates and tenants receiving direct federal assistance, whether that was through increased unemployment or stimulus funds. Likewise, the U.S Census Bureau Pulse Survey found that 80.2% of renters were currently caught up on rent payments, according to the most recently available data from the week of March 17-29, 2021.
These findings at the national level are comparable with what has been reported at the local level. In a report analyzing rental payments, The Furman Center found that total rent arrears increased following both the beginning of the crisis and the expiration of extended federal unemployment benefits at the end of July. Furman also noted a concern for owner ability to pay mortgages and operating expenses given these drops in revenue.
REBNY has been an tireless advocate for New York City at the federal level pushing for business interruption programs, state and local aid, reforms to expand the paycheck protection program, and an emergency rental assistance program. REBNY members were the first to pledge a 90-day moratorium on evictions, enter into voluntary rent repayment plans, and in partnership with members from the New York Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH), founded Project Parachute.
Project Parachute is a philanthropic initiative, administered by Enterprise Community Partners, that seeks to help the most vulnerable New York City renters remain in their homes during and in the aftermath of the Coronavirus crisis. The tenant-facing portion of Project Parachute known as FASTEN (Funds and Services for Tenants Experiencing Need) began case management in the fall of 2020. As of this month, under FASTEN, Project Parachute has provided support to over 1,600 individuals, with $2.6 million in rental arrears has been requested. Importantly, the program is reaching those who were not otherwise eligible for government assistance - 87% of the served households are undocumented households and over 50% are single adults. Importantly, as most stimulus dollars and existing programs identify prior housing instability as a criterion for relief, over 80% of the households served under FASTEN would be deemed ineligible for traditional voucher assistance as they have no documented shelter history.
FASTEN has provided key lessons, including the need for trust building and leveraging partners for referrals for assistance. As part of Project Parachute, REBNY has joined with diverse stakeholders including representatives from Enterprise Community Partners, the Legal Aid Society, Homeless Services United (HSU), Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA), and NYSAFAH to develop upstream solutions to prevent evictions.
If the Board is looking for a villain in tenant hardship, it is the pandemic they should be looking to. Zero percent increases cannot solve for tenant hardship and existing rent burden or accrued rental arrears. It certainly won’t solve for keeping buildings habitable, safe and in good condition over the long run.