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As legislators return to session, housing system requires support

The New York State Legislature is scheduled to reconvene this week and is expected to consider legislation to help New York’s economy recover from the unprecedented economic turbulence caused by the pandemic. The scale and scope of that crisis will mean the Legislature will be forced to make difficult decisions about spending cuts and their overall priorities.

As the pandemic has made clear, New York’s housing affordability crisis threatens the housing security of millions of families across the state. Providing for those families must remain a top priority in Albany. Even amid this challenging climate, officials should sustain current levels of funding for New York State’s historic plan to generate and preserve hundreds of thousands of affordable housing statewide.

The State has already taken a number of laudable steps to mitigate the impact of the crisis, including enacting an eviction moratorium and providing support to residents facing financial hardship. These measures have provided an additional layer of housing security but are not enough: the aftershocks of this crisis will be impacting low- and middle-income New Yorkers for months to come.

The New York State Association for Affordable Housing has been involved in countless conversations with leading elected officials and policymakers to stress the importance of robust investment in affordable housing. In order to mitigate the crisis and set New York on the path to recovery, low- and middle-income renters and the housing system that supports them must be provided with comprehensive relief in the long-term.

A piecemeal approach, where lawmakers attempt to fix just one component of a wide-ranging crisis impacting a whole ecosystem, is not sufficient. It is crucial to focus on the whole and avoid unintended consequences in an already precarious crisis.

We are all too familiar with the statistics that define a housing crisis that long predates the pandemic. Recent data showed that millions of families are paying more than they can afford on rent and 1.5 million paid a staggering 50 percent or more toward housing. The crisis has made this situation even more dire.

The exacerbation of the housing crisis threatens to hamper economic recovery. Addressing the shortage of available affordable housing requires a holistic approach from our elected officials. It needs to prioritize renters, property owners, and the future pipeline of affordable housing all at once.

The good news is that housing continues to be a priority for lawmakers, and many are conveying a responsible message. Corey Johnson, the New York City Council Speaker, recently said that policymakers need to think about the “entire food chain” of the housing system, correctly noting that property owners need to be in a position to pay property taxes in order to fund the essential services the government provides in this pandemic. Brian Kavanagh, the Senate Housing Committee Chair, echoed those sentiments in a recent interview. There are many other examples.

These are encouraging statements that indicate that our elected officials are taking an evenhanded approach to a complex issue. The next step will be for policymakers to sustain the current level of funding for our ongoing housing plan. That will help put New York well on the path to true economic recovery.

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