Testimony

The Real Estate Board of New York to The Committee on Housing & Buildings of the New York City Council Regarding the Impact of COVID-19 on NYC Housing Vacancies and Assessing the Ongoing Need for an Emergency Rental Assistance Program

Ryan Monell

Vice President of City Legislative Affairs

February 24, 2022

Throughout the pandemic, REBNY and its members have taken industry-leading steps to help keep New Yorkers housed and ensure greater access to housing for New Yorkers in need. For example, even before the State’s adoption of an eviction moratorium, REBNY members committed to a voluntary 90-day halt to evictions to ensure vulnerable New Yorkers were not displaced from their homes during the immediate crisis. This step was followed by REBNY members and others in the real estate community stepping forward to create Project Parachute. Project Parachute is a coalition of owners, non-profit organizations and service providers led by Enterprise Community Partners, which aims to work collaboratively to keep vulnerable New Yorkers impacted by the COVID-19 crisis in their homes. To date, Project Parachute has raised nearly $13 million amount to support over 3,000 New Yorkers, particularly those who are not served by existing forms of assistance. Over 80% of these New Yorkers would not have qualified for existing rental assistance programs due to restrictive eligibility requirements.

Project Parachute’s pledge is to find collaborative ways to reduce evictions and keep tenants stably housed, and the success of this initiative underscores a key point. Rental assistance is the best, most efficient way to help tenants whose incomes do not match their rent, to stabilize buildings that are financially stressed due to rental arrears, and/or undergoing sustained vacancies in certain segments of the market, and to shore up the housing ecosystem without overly burdening one party over another. This is why REBNY was proud to support Local Law 71 of 2021, which raised the value of the CityFHEPS vouchers to make this form of rental assistance more competitive in our housing market. REBNY was also proud to support recent changes in State law to increase the value of StateFHEPS housing vouchers. Both of these have given formerly homeless New Yorkers more choices about where they can live, and greater opportunities in more expensive neighborhoods.

In addition to fighting for increases in the value of CityFHEPS and StateFHEPS, REBNY also submitted comments urging the New York City Human Resources Administration to ensure income eligibility is consistent with other programs. Doing so will ensure the program is as helpful as possible to the very same hardworking New Yorkers FHEPS is intended to help. Furthermore, REBNY supports increased eligibility for these and other rental assistance programs, which is why REBNY has been working to encourage the adoption of the Housing Access Voucher Program (HAVP), a permanent, statewide Section 8-like rental assistance program, as part of the state budget. Direct rental assistance is a proven cost-effective method of ensuring people can stay in their homes and access new ones if so preferred. Enabling additional and more effective use of rental assistance, especially in high-amenity areas, will expand housing choice for New Yorkers across neighborhoods.

As designed, a minimum of fifty percent of HAVP's resources will be dedicated to help homeless New Yorkers across the state find stable housing, while the remainder will go toward eviction prevention for households at risk of becoming homeless. HAVP is designed to be maximally accessible, flexible, and non-discriminatory, making it the most effective program for moving homeless households into stable, permanent housing. A state housing voucher would reach those New Yorkers left unserved by the underfunded federal Section 8 program and solve for the byzantine rules for eligibility of other like programs.

At the federal level, REBNY and our members pushed aggressively to secure substantial federal funding for direct rental assistance. REBNY continued that advocacy once billions were allocated to the state, calling for a program that would be accessible to any eligible renter, regardless of documentation status, unemployment status, or the ownership structure of the dwelling in which they reside.

With the launch of the State’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program in 2021, REBNY has repeatedly worked with the State to deploy those dollars effectively and expeditiously and continues to find ways expand access to rental assistance for more New Yorkers in need. Most recently REBNY was proud to join Governor Hochul and many others to call on Washington to allocate more than $1.5B in additional funding for emergency rental assistance. The recent reopening of the ERAP portal and this increased advocacy shows what we all know – New Yorkers need more assistance, and they need it now.

To that end, we encourage focus on the following topics to help support New Yorkers in need.

First, increasing housing access has to include eviction prevention methods, greater connections to existing housing, and an increase in housing supply. The City, the State, and the Council have taken steps towards meeting this goal, with the introduction and execution of several policies that emphasize a “Housing First” approach towards preventing and reducing homelessness. However, any successful approach to ensuring greater housing access have to incorporate a streamlined lease-up process for New Yorkers applying to the City’s affordable housing stock.

Furthermore, while the City has spent significant time and effort improving Housing Connect for tenants, it has not spent equal time in removing website glitches and operational enhancements for the owner facing portal, even a year after launch. Requirements for the marketing handbook have gotten more complicated over time, not less. Unfortunately, this means that the lease-up process by HPD is so lengthy it can take over a year from construction completion to tenant occupancy. Substantial reforms need to be made so as to not lead to delays in delivering and accessing housing and to ensure the efficacy of the other housing stability methods the Council has put in place.