Kathy Hochul’s first State of the State proposal included sweeping plans for affordable housing, free legal assistance to low-income tenants, and the posting of social workers on the subways to perform homelessness outreach. But the governor failed to address other high-profile issues, such as the end of pandemic procrastination protection and the “Good Cause” eviction bill.
With more than 55,000 people in New York City’s various homeless systems, hundreds of thousands of nationals behind their rent and eviction protections ending in less than a week, it’s a gloomy and uncertain time for Empire State.
Governor Kathy Hochul promised to tackle these issues during her first State of the State speech last week, proposing measures to stave off a wave of postponements (but not prolong the current freeze), while explicitly linking the homelessness crisis to need for more affordable housing.
In a 237-page text that accompanied the speech, Hochul gave more details about her policy proposals, which include the construction or preservation of 100,000 affordable housing units and plans to expand access to free lawyers for low-income tenants in housing law.
Her recognition of the interconnected homelessness and housing crises received praise from advocates, as did her stated commitment to keeping families out of shelters. But what she left out of her proposals – especially an attitude to the state’s good litigation legislation – has also been subject to scrutiny by tenants, people experiencing homelessness and their lawyers.
Here are five other important takeaways from Hochul’s suggestions and omissions.
Preparation for termination of eviction protection
Hochul made it clear in her policy text that she will not seek to extend protection against pandemic exposure, which only began with a decree from her predecessor in March 2020. Since then, relatively few New Yorkers have been evicted from their homes by a court order, even whether they owed significant rent.
But the end of protection could trigger a wave of new eviction applications given that about a third of New York’s low-income tenants have fallen behind with their rent during the pandemic.
Several lawmakers have backed the creation of a state-of-the-art law law modeled on a New York City law that provides low-income tenants with representation in eviction cases. Hochul stopped calling for such a law outright, but said she wants to create a deferral prevention program that will provide “free legal assistance” to tenants in the upstate who cannot afford a lawyer.
The program will apply to renters facing exposure who earn at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line – about $ 44,000 for a family of three. As in New York City, the state program would fund existing legal service providers, such as the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York and the Legal Services of Central New York.
A new development a day after Hochul’s speech could provide additional protection to tenants through the New York Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). From June to November 2021, ERAP covered arrears for more than 100,000 households, with another provision prohibiting their landlords from seeking a deferral.
An additional nearly 200,000 households did not receive funding after the program ran out of cash, but they were given a potential defense in housing law in the form of their ERAP applications, as state law allows tenants to show a judge that they have applied for rent in defense of eviction. But countless New Yorkers missed out on the application period when the State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) closed the portal to the leveraged fund in November.
Hochul asked the U.S. Treasury Department for about $ 1 billion to rebuild the fund. Last month, the federal government responded with a check for about $ 28 million – 0.3 percent of Hochul’s request, Law360 reported.
The ERAP saga did not end there. A state Supreme Court judge on Thursday ordered the OTDA to reopen its application portal within three days, ruling that the closure was arbitrary and subject tenants to eviction, though the federal government may come through with more funding in March.
Tenants “should have the benefit of being able to apply for ERAP now and get their rightful place on a de facto waiting list instead of waiting and joining the onslaught of applications [New York State] can receive if it reopens the ERAP portal after obtaining sufficient funding after March, ”wrote Judge Lynn Kotler.
An OTDA spokesman said they were reviewing the verdict.
No attitude to good cause
A battle over the bill to postpone good cause will be among the highest-profile housing-related issues facing state lawmakers this session, but Hochul has so far refused to take a stand. She did not hint at her position in the speech or the policy book, either.
The measure will give tenants the right to a lease renewal in most cases and curb unlimited rent increases in non-stabilized flats – thus blocking eviction without “good reason” and extending the key rent stabilization protection to tenants in buildings with fewer than six units.
Legislation has strong support among progressive Democrats in both chambers, but legislative leaders have not yet taken the measure to heart. Still, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cusins has sponsored a similar bill. Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online.
A decision by influential proponents of tenants and lawmakers to withdraw their demands for an extension of the moratorium on eviction could make Hochul and Heastie more receptive to a good cause.
Nevertheless, the bill is terrible for landlords who have launched an aggressive campaign against what they compare to universal rent control.
‘Direct action’ on street homelessness
One day after her speech, Hochul visited New York City to describe a specific element of her plan for dealing with street homelessness: “Safe Option Support” (SOS) outreach teams. The state-funded teams will consist of psychiatric professionals who canvasize the subways and refer homeless New Yorkers to city-run shelters and services.
This proposal coincides with a plan by Mayor Eric Adams to flood the subways with NYPD officers amid a perception of crime and underground danger – a perception driven by Hochul’s predecessor and her primary gubernatorial rival. The promise to increase the police presence has affected advocates which says it will lead to more aggressive and punitive encounters with New Yorkers staying on the trains.
In a speech Thursday, Adams said he would assign a “ubiquitous” police presence at the subway station, but that police would not engage with homeless New Yorkers. Instead, they will contact the SOS teams to carry out outreach work.
But these SOS teams are still only a concept in the phase of requests for proposals. So how will the increase in the metro police address homelessness in the meantime?
A spokesman for Adams referred questions about the program to Hochul’s office. The governor’s office asked questions to the Office of Mental Health (OMH). A spokesman for OMH said the SOS teams would be up and running this spring.
Proponents of homelessness attacked the plan’s connection to police work.
“Under no circumstances should the NYPD be a first-aider for people in need of clinical expertise,” added New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Mental health crises should be addressed with a trauma-informed response, not an approach that inflicts additional trauma and puts lives at risk for precisely the people the NYPD is to serve.”
“We recommend that the NYPD stay out of the homeless, and instead of the city and state empower homeless outreach teams to provide basic needs and then permanent housing,” added Karim Walker, outreach specialist at Human.nyc. “More outreach work without more housing is not helpful.”
Solving the affordability crisis
Hochul discussed the urgent need for more affordable housing to address homelessness and proposed a $ 25 billion five-year plan to create and preserve 100,000 units for low- and middle-income New Yorkers. It includes the creation of 7,000 new units of supporting housing while retaining 3,000 others.
The supportive housing pledge “goes beyond past commitments and listens to advocates’ calls for much-needed predictability for both developers and service providers,” said New York CEO Supportive Housing Network Laura Mascuch.
Hochul prioritizes at least one measure that would set in motion faster housing creation – or legalize some illegal homes that already exist. She supports allowing accessory housing (ADUs) such as basement apartments, caravans and “in-laws suites” in areas designated for single-family homes. The housing capital plan will direct money to municipalities and non-profit organizations to help homeowners get their ADUs up to code. The fund may revive a pilot program in New York City aimed at upgrading basement apartments, which are a vital, but often unregulated and potentially dangerous, form of housing for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers.
Hochul also said she would support measures to change zone-related laws to increase density, such as a state rule limiting housing density to a floor area ratio (FAR) of 12 in New York City (FAR refers to the maximum number of square feet of a building allowed of local zoning rules, based on multiples of the plot size.So a FAR of 12 means 12 times the size of the property plot).
And she wants to change state legislation to allow hotels within 800 feet of a residential area to be converted into permanent housing at affordable prices. It reflects a provision from the final text of the State Housing Our Neighbors with Dignity Act (HONDA), which unlocks funds for the conversion of hotel rooms into affordable apartments for homeless New York City residents.
Partnership for the Homeless President and CEO Áine Duggan welcomed Hochul’s focus on housing as the solution to the homelessness crisis, but said her plans would fail if more people continued to lose their homes and fill shelters.
“The governor’s plan can only succeed if it prevents more people from losing their homes while helping those who are currently experiencing homelessness to be stably accommodated,” Duggan said. “To this end, extending the moratorium, securing new federal funding for rental assistance and working with community organizations, tenants and property owners to effectively provide funding for rental assistance is an important basis on which to build the state’s new housing plan.”
Embrace of community-controlled housing
Hochul also supported affordable housing opportunities in New York City through the creation of community land trusts (CLTs) and other forms of “community-controlled housing.” Under the CLT model, land is owned by nonprofit community-based organizations that rent or sell the home to lower-income households. Homeowners on CLTs can not sell their units at a steep profit, thus fending off speculators and keeping homes permanently affordable.
There is a “growing desire in communities across New York to take more control of their living environments,” states Hochul’s policy book. She is pushing for a pilot program that will fund the creation of various community-controlled housing models, including Mitchell-Lama-style limited equity coops and CLTs.
The proposal, along with Hochul’s plan to allow New Yorkers to take alcoholic beverages from bars and restaurants, garnered approval from Housing Justice For All organizer Cea Weaver.
“This and to-go drinks are the good parts,” Weaver tweeted.