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Tenants need innovative solutions to help guide them out of pandemic

Despite commendable efforts by city, state, and federal policymakers, many New Yorkers are in real danger of losing their homes as the coronavirus pandemic and its attendant economic fallout drags on.

Even Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent step to extend the Tenant Safe Harbor Act, which will provide additional security to COVID-impacted tenants, while welcome, is just a temporary measure.

As government battles on multiple fronts to curb virus hot spots while also making difficult budgetary decisions, it is increasingly clear that short-term fixes are not the answer.     

What we need is a holistic, long-term solution that will provide long-term relief to property owners and tenants alike. Due to the significant revenue losses the city and state are facing, it is becoming increasingly and distressingly clear that the federal support required for this sort of comprehensive approach likely will not take shape until after the presidential election.

The private sector, while facing significant fiscal challenges of its own, has stepped up to help some of New York’s most vulnerable residents. This philanthropic effort has been realized in part with Project Parachute – a fund managed by Enterprise Community Partners that was launched with initial seed money from property owners, including many New York State Association for Affordable Housing members.

The funds raised by the group are distributed to the city’s Homebase program to provide eviction prevention and rental assistance measures for individuals who are either ineligible for or unable to access state or federal relief. That has thus far largely included undocumented immigrants and those relying on federal disability benefits – two populations that were in precarious circumstances even before the pandemic struck. 

Project Parachute has already raised millions of dollars and helped struggling tenants by offering resources like food relief, landlord mediation, and job search assistance. NYSAFAH is pleased to be able to support this fund, but is also mindful of the fact that there is only so much the industry can do in the face of such a significant and growing need.

The numbers behind this crisis are stark. The unemployment rate in New York stood at 16 percent at the end of August, which was down from nearly 20 percent in July, but still twice as high as the rest of the country. The city’s recovery, particularly when it comes to the restoration of private sector jobs, is moving considerably slower than elsewhere in the nation, and the subsequent impact on the housing market has been severe.

Partnerships like Project Parachute are helping to protect New York’s underserved population amid this economic meltdown, and NYSAFAH will continue to do what it can to elevate and buttress this effort. But make no mistake: This is merely another stopgap measure. Our collective work thus far is only holding back the tide, and we cannot do that in perpetuity.

New Yorkers are counting on elected officials at the city, state and federal levels to provide real rental relief and a robust program to develop and preserve affordable housing statewide. NYSAFAH will continue to advocate for such a policy even as we applaud the actions taken by our members and industry partners to temporarily stave off a true housing catastrophe.

A true economic recovery cannot be fully realized without a significant and sustained investment that provides residents across the five boroughs and the state with housing security. We have weathered difficult times, but there are considerable challenges ahead. The industry is both willing and able to assist, but a far-reaching and collaborative plan is needed – and soon.  

Photo credit: Daryan Shamkhali/Unsplash

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