New York State is facing two intertwined crises: housing affordability and homelessness. While COVID has exacerbated these crises, they’ve been an emergency in New York for well over a decade.
Prior to the pandemic, about one-quarter of New York State renters were already spending at least half of their income on rent; in New York City, that figure was one-third. Meanwhile, the number of homeless people in New York had reached record levels. Between 2007 and 2020, the state’s homeless population increased by 46%. As of January 2020, on any given day, roughly 92,000 New Yorkers were sleeping on the street or in shelters, or were unsustainably “doubled-up” with relatives or friends.
The economic chaos of the last two years made the situation much worse: 600,000 New York households are now behind on rent, and rental prices are skyrocketing across the state. If New York’s leaders do not take swift, substantial action, New York’s homelessness rate will significantly increase.
When Gov. Kathy Hochul replaced Andrew Cuomo, she indicated that she’d make keeping New Yorkers in their homes, and housing affordability more broadly, a priority. Unfortunately, she’s failed to do so.
Amid the Omicron wave, Gov. Hochul allowed the eviction moratorium to expire, leaving hundreds of thousands of people still struggling from the upheaval and uncertainty of the pandemic in danger of losing their homes. That and subsequent decisions suggest that either she doesn’t understand the acuteness of the housing crisis or she does not have the capability or courage to address it in the short or long term.
The eviction moratorium should have been extended until New York was further along in its recovery from the pandemic, but it was never intended to serve as a permanent fix to the housing crisis. To both mitigate the effects of the moratorium’s premature end and create a long-term solution to the housing crisis, New York needs Good Cause Eviction legislation, which would provide millions of renters with the security they need. Good Cause Eviction legislation would give renters living in non-rent-stabilized units the right to a lease renewal and prevent landlords from evicting tenants without a good reason, such as nonpayment of rent. And it would protect tenants from the type of unreasonable, unaffordable rent hikes we are now seeing across New York, capping annual rent increases at 3% or 1.5 times the rate of local inflation. Owner-occupied units with fewer than four units would be exempted.
Just as she allowed the eviction moratorium to expire, the governor allowed the legislative session to end without supporting and enacting Good Cause. Her new Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado was one of only a few Democratic members of Congress who refused to sign on to a letter supporting the bill. This is no surprise, as real estate interests have donated millions to their collective campaigns.
A recent study showed that New York will have to build 560,000 new housing units by 2030 to keep up with population growth, yet there are currently only 79,500 homes in development, or about 14% of what is needed. Gov. Hochul has failed to acknowledge, much less address this need––calling for the building or preservation of only 100,000 homes statewide over the next five years––a far cry from the volume of construction required to meet demand. She has also failed to provide sufficient relief for homeowners seeking to avoid foreclosure.
It does not have to be this way. We can both keep people in their homes and create the additional housing we need. Our current leadership is simply choosing not to––and so we have a chance to choose new leadership.
If elected, we would push forcefully to pass Good Cause legislation to keep tenants in their homes. And our plan goes further: we would redirect the economic development infrastructure of the state–which has too often been used for giveaways to billionaires and corporations–to focus on building affordable housing. With major public investment, we would build and preserve one million units of truly affordable housing over the next decade.
Stable, affordable housing is one of the basic things people need to ensure their own safety and that of their loved ones, to maintain mental and emotional well-being, to work productively, to attend school consistently––to build and sustain a life. Housing insecurity and evictions don’t just upend the lives of those who lose their homes––they reverberate throughout communities, contributing to rising crime, mental health crises, substance abuse, job loss, decreased school attendance, and, with the COVID still circulating, additional outbreaks.
New York cannot recover from the pandemic, move forward, and achieve its potential without addressing the housing crisis. Passing Good Cause Eviction legislation is not a cure-all, but it will provide necessary stability to millions of New Yorkers and put this state on a path to affordability for all.
After they failed to support and enact these protections, New Yorkers have good cause to evict Gov. Hochul and her lieutenant at the ballot box on June 28th.
NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams is a candidate for New York State governor and Ana Maria Archila is a candidate for lieutenant governor.