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City tells landlords to reach compromise on rent payments

Mayor Bill de Blasio has launched a citywide tenant landlord mediation program to help head off a COVID eviction crisis.

The mayor said the program puts the power in the hands of the parties involved instead of the law and can help tenants and small landlords find solutions to rental issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The goal is to resolve cases before they reach housing court and avoid the long-term effects of an eviction on vulnerable tenants whose future housing options would be hurt.

“As the City continues to beat back COVID-19, we must use every tool at our disposal to keep tenants safely in their homes, especially in communities that were already burdened by the affordable housing crisis,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “This project will ensure that New Yorkers aren’t forced from their home during this unprecedented health and economic crisis.”

The announcement comes as the number of people still paying rent five months into the pandemic continues to erode.

Nationally, the Multifamily Housing Council reported that 91.3 percent of market rate renters continue to make full or partial rent payments by July 20. The number has slipped just over two percent from June and, with the threat of an end to pandemic unemployment insurance at the end of July, NMHC said it expects that numbers to continue to fall.

On a more local front, the Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP) has been tracking rents among the city’s rent stabilized tenants and their landlords

CHIP, which represent the owners and operators of more than 400,000 units of rent-stabilized housing in New York City, has reported four straight months of bleak rent payment numbers among its members.

Last month, they reported 24 percent of their rent regulated residential tenants have paid no rent since the outbreak of the coronavirus. Some 66 percent of their commercial tenants are also behind on payments.

With the knock-on effect impacting owners’ ability to pay their bills, Jay Martin, executive director of CHIP said the need for help is becoming desperate.

JAY MARTIN

“It is clear that the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are nowhere near an end. There are thousands of tenants and building owners who need help now,” said Martin.

The new mediation program is being co-ordinated by the non-profit Community Dispute Resolution Centers (CDRCs). Eligible tenants will be referred to CDRCs in each borough, and each CDRC will manage case intake, provide mediation sessions, and monitor case follow-up for tenants. The Mediation Project will handle cases in a setting where both parties feel safe, and priority will be given to tenants and small landlords who do not have legal representation.

In a survey conducted the city’s Racial Inclusion & Equity Taskforce among community partners in the hardest-hit neighborhoods, nearly all respondents cited rent burden as a primary issue facing their communities, and many articulated its systemic impacts.

“Access to stable and affordable housing is vital to the long-term recovery of communities most impacted by COVID-19,” said Sideya Sherman, Taskforce Executive Director and NYCHA Executive Vice President for Community Engagement & Partnerships. “The Landlord-Tenant Mediation Project offers a safe forum for tenants and landlords to work together towards solutions that avoid eviction and help prevent displacement.”

Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Vicki Been called the program “a common sense solution that will help prevent tenants from becoming homeless and help small landlord maintain safe, clean buildings.”

Earlier this month the city introduced a new package of property tax programs that allow some city building owners to defer tax payments without penalty.

While lauded as a welcome move, the city’s real estate industry has said the entire property tax system is in need of an overhaul.

During a public hearing on the COVID property tax relief, Jeffrey Shear, the Department of Finance’s Deputy Commissioner for Treasury and Payment Services, testified that property taxes are the City’s biggest revenue. Without that revenue, the City would have trouble paying many of its employees and vendors and providing many vital services.

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