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Helping tenants the wrong way could push landlords over the brink — and harm everyone

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managed wordpress hostingHelping tenants the wrong way could push landlords over the brink — and harm everyone 1
‘Landlords are a collection agent for the city. Over the coming months, New Yorkers will find out what they’ve been paying for.’

The coronavirus outbreak has stressed New York City’s health system, upended our vibrant way of life and put massive pressure on our economy. Everyone — from Wall Street stockjobbers to mom-and-pop restaurateurs, from Broadway stars to hoteliers and other service-industry workers — is feeling the pain.

That especially includes Gotham’s housing and commercial real-estate providers and the millions of tenants we serve. Tenants and landlords alike are facing a true emergency, and we need our state and local leaders to act like leaders — instead of politicizing the situation or caricaturing one camp, landlords, as evildoers.

April 1 is fast approaching, and with it a potential disaster. Many of New York City’s commercial and residential renters won’t be able to pay their rent — understandable, owing to circumstances that were far beyond their control. And while these tenants won’t be evicted, their non-payment of rent could set off a calamitous cascade that could collapse an industry relied upon by millions of people.

Elected officials at all levels need to focus on this right now. Direct financial assistance must be offered to those who need it most. That means zero-interest loans for shuttered small businesses, as well as tax-free, no-strings rent vouchers tied directly to unemployment claims for residential tenants.

Helping tenants the wrong way could push landlords over the brink — and harm everyone 2Helping tenants the wrong way could push landlords over the brink — and harm everyone 3

New York City should also pivot its one-shot deals for rental arrears from a program that waits for tenants to be on the doorstep of eviction to an early intervention tool that provides cash assistance to any renter who has fallen a few months behind.

After all, why wait until a tenant is in the housing court system to lend a helping hand?

And tenants who haven’t lost work or wages in this crisis must pay their rent — and not just ­because it pays the salaries of those who keep the buildings safe and clean for tenants.

Nearly 40 percent of those rent payments go toward sustaining the tax base of a city looking at billions of dollars in revenue losses: Property taxes, water and sewer charges, payroll taxes and a host of other payments to the government come out of that rent check.

Helping tenants the wrong way could push landlords over the brink — and harm everyone 4Helping tenants the wrong way could push landlords over the brink — and harm everyone 5

The landlord is just a collection agent for the city. Over the next few months, New Yorkers will find out what they’ve been paying for.

Small-building owners will make sacrifices, too. Even a robust voucher program isn’t going to be enough to make up the massive losses in rent revenue that are coming. Some tenants may see ­reduced hours but not complete unemployment. Others work off the books and won’t be able to claim unemployment. How will their rents get paid? The truth is they won’t. Then what?

Insurance companies have ­already said claims for business losses related to the coronavirus pandemic don’t qualify for coverage, so property owners are going to be left holding the bag.

Even if commercial mortgage payments, water and sewer fees and property taxes are suspended, once those suspensions are lifted, where is the money going to come from if rent payments are forgiven and insurance won’t cover the losses to landlords?

Any elected official pushing to suspend all rent collection without also putting in place measures to suspend operational expenses is only solving half the problem. Any elected official calling for rent forgiveness, without more, can’t be taken seriously.

We need leaders who are focused on solving the problems we all face, not looking to win political fights while there are real battles to be fought. Worse, their carelessness is going to add fuel to the already-searing financial fire, just so they can get a short-term political gain.

The only elected official who has proved to be an adult in these times is Gov. Cuomo. With a clear focus and fact-based decision-making he has been guiding the Empire State through this crisis. We have confidence he will come up with a responsible plan to protect the small businesses who provide New York’s ­affordable housing and that it will contain direct assistance to those who need it.

Others should follow his lead or get out of his way.

Helping tenants the wrong way could push landlords over the brink — and harm everyone 6Helping tenants the wrong way could push landlords over the brink — and harm everyone 7

Jay Martin is the executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, representing the owners and operators of more than 400,000 units of rent-stabilized housing.

Helping tenants the wrong way could push landlords over the brink — and harm everyone 8Helping tenants the wrong way could push landlords over the brink — and harm everyone 9
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