The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) is the City’s leading real estate trade association representing commercial, residential and institutional property owners, builders, managers, investors, brokers, salespeople, and other organizations and individuals active in New York City real estate. REBNY thanks the New York City Council Committee on Housing & Buildings and the Committee on Justice System for the opportunity to submit testimony to discuss the steps we have taken to help keep vulnerable New Yorkers in their homes during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Residential property owners and managers have been working strenuously throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to help their tenants and residents stay safely in their homes. From frontline building service workers cleaning and disinfecting to property managers and managing agents developing new protocols, the entire industry has worked tirelessly to help New Yorkers stay healthy and help our City emerge from the pandemic.
Clearly, in the midst of a global health pandemic, keeping people in their homes is one of the most effective strategies to protect public health. That’s why, on March 13, 2020, a full week before the State imposed a residential eviction moratorium, REBNY members and owners representing more than 155,000 rental units in the City pledged not to execute any warrant of eviction for the next 90 days in response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. As William C. Rudin, REBNY Chairman, and James Whelan, REBNY President, wrote, “With all the stress, health risk and economic suffering going on now, no one should have to worry about losing their place to live during this crisis.” This commitment has since been overtaken by government action, including executive orders issued by Governor Cuomo, action by the State legislature and court system and most recently by the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Combined, these actions effectively mean that residential tenants experiencing COVID-19 related financial challenges cannot be evicted.
Following the commitment to halt evictions, several REBNY members and others in the real estate community stepped forward to build new partnership called Project Parachute based on the shared commitment to help vulnerable tenants during the pandemic and in its aftermath. 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. Over $4.5 million was initially raised for Project Parachute, with additional pledges from philanthropic institutions secured in partnership with the Mayor’s Fund.
Based on a data-driven approach to allocate funds Project Parachute has provided funding to the City’s seven Homebase community-based providers: BronxWorks, CAMBA, Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens, Catholic Charities Community Services, HELP USA, RiseBoro Community Partnership and Services for the Underserved (S:US). These organizations are already on the frontlines of helping those experiencing or on the verge of homelessness and have the existing experience and infrastructure, such as walk-in clinics, to provide a range of social services to help more low-income New Yorkers impacted by COVID-19.
Project Parachute funding has been prioritized for those who do not qualify for traditional City assistance, such as those in the undocumented community or those in non-standard employment circumstances and has primarily been put to use in communities of color. Of funding distributed to date, 32% was provided to communities in the Bronx, 27% to Brooklyn, 22% to Queens, 14% to Manhattan and 5% to Staten Island.
Tenant-facing services launched in early August and provided resources to assist at least 1,600 vulnerable households stay in their homes in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis over the next 18 months. These 1,600 households will have access to a full range of social services and measures to remain stably housed. These include:
Mediation, referral to benefits programs that the individual may be eligible for including SNAP, unemployment, SCRIE/DRIE, access to COVID relief related resources, financial counseling, and career support including job search assistance and referrals to workforce providers;
One-time or short-term financial assistance that may include but are not limited to bridge housing costs (security deposit, first month rent, moving expenses), workforce development related costs (licensure, initial weeks of daycare), transportation costs, and immediate need grants (utilities, food, prescriptions); and/or
Rental arrears assistance for those ineligible for Homebase due to immigration status and New Yorkers with nonstandard employment (e.g. temporary, intermittent, part-time, day labor, and contract workers) who are unable to prove future ability to pay their rent.
Project Parachute provides an effective model for helping New Yorkers facing housing instability and homelessness. Going forward, we believe it will be critical that policymakers develop programs that recognize both the need for direct relief to tenants struggling to pay rent and to property owners with obligations to pay mortgages, property taxes and their building service employees.
During this time of crisis, property owners are doing all they can to meet their responsibility of providing quality, safe and healthy housing for their tenants and meeting their financial obligations. However, as is the case with most businesses in this crisis, it has become increasingly difficult financially to find ways to cover the costs for maintenance, COVID-19 related cleaning and safety precautions and the other already burdensome financial obligations like mortgages, property taxes, labor, water and sewer charges, insurance and utilities.
It is precisely for this reason that the eviction moratorium itself is not a long-term solution, nor are proposals to cancel rent or have a blanket moratorium indefinitely. Instead, future policy must focus on providing direct support to struggling tenants combined with targeted relief to property owners.
As REBNY stated in testimony at this week’s hearing on rental assistance, expanding access to vouchers is an effective tool to help integrate neighborhoods of opportunity and provide financial security for tenants in neighborhoods experiencing significant change and transition. While expanded rental assistance is a good use of taxpayer money given that it is more cost-effective for government intervention to keep or place someone in their home than it is to provide temporary shelter, it is also the right thing to do.
At the same time, while COVID-19 has impacted all of us, many New Yorkers still have the means to pay rent. Unfortunately, in some cases these individuals used the crisis as an excuse to not pay rent even though doing so would not present a financial burden. Tenants who have not suffered financial harm or who have the means to pay rent should continue do so.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify on steps REBNY has taken to help New Yorkers during the COVID-19 pandemic and how we believe policymakers can best help New Yorkers in need of greater support during these difficult times.
Vice President, Policy and Planning
Real Estate Board of New York