Gotham Gazette Sun, 12 Jul 2020 04:06:39 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Cash Homebuyers Threaten Covid Recovery and Deepen Racial Wealth Gap homes apartments buildings mortgages


An astonishing 11.3% of New York mortgage borrowers are behind on their mortgage, a 121% increase over the same time last year. That figure only hints at the economic pain being felt in New York and across the country, and pain that is being temporarily moderated by stopgap measures like forbearance plans and unemployment insurance, but threatens to bubble over into a full-blown housing crisis.

In just two months, the federal foreclosure moratorium will expire and the government still has not adopted measures for a post-COVID housing market, especially not for low-income and Black and brown communities. If we’ve learned anything from the Great Recession, cash wielding, predatory investors thrive amidst a disrupted housing market, taking advantage of dropping prices and foreclosure sales, which will further disadvantage aspiring homeowners.

In a recently released analysis, “The Outsized Power of Cash Buyers in New York City’s Housing Market,” the Center for NYC Neighborhoods found that over 40% of small home, co-op, and condo sales in the Big Apple have been to cash buyers over the past ten years, even though 80% of homebuyers take out a mortgage nationally. Investors are targeting the modestly priced co-ops and single-family homes in neighborhoods where working class families have traditionally been able to buy.

Competition from cash buyers was already a leading obstacle to homeownership in New York City and COVID-19 threatens to compound the problem. Even with interest rates low, widespread loss of income will make it difficult for renters to qualify for mortgages at the city’s high price points. Meanwhile, lenders are tightening access to mortgages by increasing down payment requirements and minimum credit scores, leading the Mortgage Bankers Association to drop its Credit Availability Index to its lowest point since 2014.

By definition, cash buyers don’t need mortgages, leaving them in prime position to take advantage of the post-COVID economy. When forbearance periods end, we anticipate a surge of homeowner distress that will yield thousands of foreclosures. Cash buyers will be ready to target these properties with expertise built after the Great Recession and pockets full from investors looking to move their money out of COVID-gutted industries like restaurants and airlines and into the relative safety of New York City real estate.

A replay of the Great Recession would not only shrink the city’s already small homeownership landscape but deepen the racial wealth gap that is driven by uneven access to homeownership for Black and Latino households. In an early June survey, the Census Bureau found that while 11% of white homeowners had not been able to make their previous month’s mortgage payment, that was true for 17% of Latino homeowners and 35% of Black homeowners in New York. Factoring in racial disparities in access to mortgage refinancing, it’s hard not to conclude that COVID threatens to devastate the assets of families of color at a time when the need for racial justice has never been more glaring.

Local governments can take important steps to ensure that speculative cash buyers aren't the only player in the post-COVID housing market. A tenant opportunity to purchase, like the laws in Washington DC and San Francisco, would empower renters to buy their buildings off of bankrupt landlords, creating new ownership where it would otherwise be neglected. A reform of the inequitable Mortgage Recording Tax and a boost to City and State down-payment assistance – a key plank of many reparations proposals – would help elevate first-time homebuyers over the competition coming from predatory investors.  And the State can go further by preventing distress in the first place: funding foreclosure prevention services and rent relief – absolute necessities given the coming demand.

The cost of inaction is, to put it simply, devastating to our neighborhoods and to the New York state economy.  We have been here before so we have no excuse to be caught off-guard by cash buyers and distressed property investors. State government must stop stalling on addressing homeownership protections post-COVID and press forward with bold measures to keep families in their homes as they try to get back on their feet during what looks like a long recovery ahead.

Leo Goldberg is Policy Manager at Center for NYC Neighborhoods. On Twitter @CNYCN.

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Cash Homebuyers Threaten Covid Recovery and Deepen Racial Wealth Gap Mon, 06 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
To Avert Massive Housing Crisis, We Need a Government Solution for Property Owners and Renters; Here’s a Roadmap massive crisis bx

There's a looming housing crisis we must avoid (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

The anxiety and concern driving the “cancel rent” movement is real and justified, but giving rent relief to those who don’t need it makes no sense. Something must be done for struggling renters, but those requesting relief should be asked to provide financial information backing up their request and those that need it should receive it.

However, canceling rent without subsidizing the lost rental income to property owners will only make matters worse. Without rental income, eventually property owners will be unable to pay the millions of Americans they employ, including essential workers who clean and maintain the places millions more live, work, and shop. They also may be unable to pay utilities, maintenance costs, and most importantly, property taxes, which fund many of the municipal and social programs upon which we all depend.

Property owners are not the enemy, they are an essential part of the solution. Bankrupting tens of thousands of property owners and sending many properties onto the foreclosure rolls will cripple the ability of property owners to support a solution, exacerbate housing insecurity for tenants, and saddle government, at least for a time, with properties they have no capacity to manage.

The only viable solutions are those that keep tenants in their homes and businesses, and landlords managing properties. Government must make sure both happen. Ignoring the problem or worse, offering a partial solution and pretending the problem is solved will only result in less revenue for the government and massive displacement for millions of Americans at a time when we can all least afford it.

Governmental proclamations that provide for a temporary hold on evictions solve only half the problem. These solutions are at best short-lived and certainly short-sighted, not to mention confusing for the public. Ninety-day temporary eviction relief has led to a widespread misunderstanding that rent relief, or rent forgiveness, was also offered for 90 days. In part because of this, rent collections have dropped, even among people who can afford to pay. In turn, owners’ ability to meet their own financial obligations has already reached a crisis point for many, but especially small-scale property owners.

Instead of this one-sided approach, government should sponsor comprehensive programs for tenants and property owners, authorizing both to enter into payment plans.

Under this scenario, tenants would be permitted to pay off their missed rent over the next year and property owners would in turn receive real estate tax deferral in the amount of the deferred rent payments. Property owners would then repay taxes to the government on a monthly basis once rental income begins to be repaid. Working together, such a plan could keep tenants sheltered, while keeping property owners and the city ultimately whole.

For those who can pay full rent, they should. Tenants who can still pay, even those who are unemployed due to COVID-19, should be obligated to pay at least 30 percent of all income they are receiving, including unemployment benefits, interest and dividends, or of savings in excess of two years of rent, to fulfill their rent obligations.

In either case, property owners in buildings with 10 or more units should also offer tenants the ability to pay rent by credit card and cover the tenant’s cost of the associated credit card fees for those unemployed due to COVID-19.

Finally, to help ensure that these admittedly complicated and novel approaches are effectively implemented, the city should immediately create a stakeholders task force allowing property owners, labor, lenders, utilities, tenant advocates, and city government to come together to prevent a housing crisis on a scale we have never encountered.

Measures that put the full burden of providing housing on either property owners or those without means will work for no one. Government must be part of a comprehensive solution instead of addressing only half of the problem.

Francis Greenburger is Chair and CEO of Time Equities, Inc.

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To Avert Massive Housing Crisis, We Need a Government Solution for Property Owners and Renters; Here’s a Roadmap Mon, 25 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
It’s Actually the Perfect Time for City Government to Invest in Housing perfect time houghton

Mayor de Blasio makes a housing announcement (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

In the wake of the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus shutdown, Mayor de Blasio must find budget savings anywhere he can, while still advancing his mission to make New York “the fairest big city” in America.  

It won’t be easy. But the sudden drop in tax revenue should not stop the mayor from continuing to make one smart investment: creating new affordable housing.

With the pandemic exposing the full extent of the city’s homeless crisis, now is exactly the time to create more affordable and supportive housing, as well as high-quality shelter. Doing so can sharply reduce exorbitant spending on emergency homeless hotels, create good-paying jobs when we need them most, and end the terrible damage homelessness has inflicted on a generation of children.

New York City cannot afford to miss what is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the city’s economy, the mayor found himself stuck in an unwinnable war against homelessness.

Mayor de Blasio created thousands of new, locally-funded rental vouchers for homeless families, helping many return to permanent housing. But the lowest rental housing vacancy rate in decades meant too many of the vouchers went unused, unable to counter the law of supply and demand.

The mayor also launched a record-breaking affordable housing production initiative that likewise helped thousands of homeless people find homes again. But with so many New Yorkers becoming homeless each night, the housing just couldn’t be built fast enough.

The pandemic has changed all this. And while the economic repercussions will be devastating, they also present a promising opportunity for change.

No matter what we do, New York City is likely losing residents now and into the immediate future. With the drop in demand, thousands of overleveraged properties will become available for purchase and conversion to affordable housing. With far fewer tourists visiting the city for the foreseeable future, newly superfluous hotels will be available for pennies on the dollar. Otherwise healthy apartment buildings will need formerly homeless tenants with rent vouchers those tenants can finally use.

With these new conditions suddenly in place, the mayor finally has the chance to lay the foundation for his successor to end widespread homelessness in New York City.

To do so, the city should first maintain – or even increase – capital investment in affordable housing production this year. The city borrows to fund this housing investment, so it has an outsized economic effect: the money creates housing (and jobs) today, but the bonds are paid back over decades. Fortunately, at this time interest rates are low, and the share of the city’s budget going toward borrowing costs is far below the 15% fiscal experts recommend as a cap. In short, we can afford to do this.

The administration has instead proposed slashing the capital housing budget by 40% — roughly half-a-billion dollars annually — this year and next. These cuts will delay the creation of thousands of new affordable housing units right when we need them most, and just as the cost of acquisition and development is falling.

Cutting half-a-billion dollars from the capital budget sounds like a lot of savings. But because the money for long-term investments like affordable housing is borrowed, the cut will only reduce the city’s cost of paying the money back — less than $50 million a year in savings. But in reality,  we won’t save a thing. If these cuts go through, the next mayor will end up spending even more sheltering New Yorkers who remained homeless because the housing was never built.

Of course it’s not enough just to restore the cuts to affordable housing. Despite its newly straitened circumstances, the city should stick to the mayor’s original vision and keep providing rental vouchers to homeless households. It must redirect capital dollars to acquire newly available distressed properties. And it should build housing for the people who need it most: homeless, senior, and very poor New Yorkers, because housing vulnerable people has been proven, over and over again, to reduce public spending on health care, shelter, and other expensive emergency interventions.

Our city’s terrible homeless crisis demands a renewed commitment to creating more housing. Fortunately, few economic activities generate more benefits: such an effort will bring precisely the kinds of increased jobs and consumer spending we need right now to restore the city’s economy. It is the most effective and cost-efficient option available to the mayor to spur the city’s comeback. At the same time, no investment will do more to cement the mayor’s legacy of correcting long-standing systemic inequities that have plagued the city for decades.

Ted Houghton is the President of Gateway Housing, the former Executive Deputy Commissioner of New York State Homes and Community Renewal and former Executive Director of the Supportive Housing Network of New York. On Twitter @Gateway_Housing.

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It’s Actually the Perfect Time for City Government to Invest in Housing Wed, 20 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Expand ‘Right to Counsel’ to Protect Our Families and Small Businesses from Homelessness and Financial Ruin cm car riv small bus

Small businesses are closed or on the brink across the city (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)

The day after the 90-day moratorium on eviction ends, residential and commercial eviction proceedings will potentially flood our courts, leaving families and small businesses gasping for air. 

Amid this pandemic, it is imperative that New York City expands the Right to Counsel law by increasing legal capacity to meet the inevitable COVID-19 eviction demand, and, building on this model, establish a new initiative to provide free legal representation to vulnerable small businesses. 

The Right to Counsel law, sponsored in 2017 by City Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson, guarantees that low-income families falling below 200% of the federal poverty line have access to free attorneys in housing court. In a show of remarkable success, this law allowed 84 percent of families facing eviction to stay in their homes.

Now more than ever, these protections are critical to preventing homelessness and financial ruin for our residents. Council Members Levine and Gibson are now championing Right to Counsel 2.0, which would increase the income eligibility guidelines to 400% above the federal poverty line, delivering a huge win for tenants. 

Adding to these efforts, we need federal and state support for rent relief, and the City Council should increase attorney staffing capacity in each zip code that is currently covered by the law to meet the heightened eviction demand that will follow after the eviction moratorium is lifted. The Council should also expedite the application of the current Right to Counsel law to zip codes where the law is currently not in effect (but slated to be implemented by 2022) to help those families that have had to bear the brunt of the coronavirus. 

For instance, zip codes like 10032 and 10040 in Washington Heights, which are not currently receiving representation under the law, have reported high incidences of COVID-19 cases as compared to other neighborhoods of New York City. 

Building on the Right to Counsel model, the City Council should employ its budgetary discretion to establish a similar initiative for small business owners. This initiative would fund nonprofit providers to offer comprehensive legal support for qualifying small businesses, particularly in neighborhoods like Washington Heights, Harlem, Elmhurst, Mott Haven, and Kingsbridge.  

Nonprofits should be provided funding to assist vulnerable small businesses with free attorneys to negotiate, among other things, new language to their original commercial leases, giving them the greatest protection possible. Here, an attorney’s lease interpretation skills could result in positive outcomes for commercial tenants, such as a rent arrears repayment plan or a shortened contractual obligation period for which they have to pay rent. And if negotiations fail, this initiative would also provide free legal representation for qualifying small businesses in commercial eviction proceedings in court. 

Indeed, these proposals have costs — but this is a perfect time for New York City to prioritize long-standing needs of our hard-working families. New Yorkers are counting on policy-makers to be courageous and make bold decisions to steer us in the right direction. We need to get it done.

Shaun Abreu is a tenants’ rights attorney and represents low-income tenants covered under the Right to Counsel law in Housing Court. He is a candidate for City Council in Manhattan’s District 7. On Twitter @ShaunAbreu.

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Expand ‘Right to Counsel’ to Protect Our Families and Small Businesses from Homelessness and Financial Ruin Tue, 05 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Renters are Facing an Unprecedented Emergency; We Need a Federal Answer, Not a Rent Strike housing New York City

An economic crisis is upon us (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)

For millions of American families, making rent each month is a familiar struggle: last October, a new analysis found that half of American renters were spending more than they could afford on monthly rent payments. But now, with the COVID-19 pandemic ushering in a new economic crisis and the real unemployment rate at its highest level since the height of the Great Depression, America’s housing affordability crisis is a true economic emergency. An unprecedented number of households will be newly unable to pay rent – and that threatens our whole economic system.

An emergency of this magnitude requires a swift and massive response from the federal government, which thus far has not materialized. As a way to press the issue, some are calling for a statewide rent strike in New York. But this approach will harm the affordable housing stock and the tenants who live in it. Rent is required to keep the buildings maintained, staffed, and clean. Rent strikes by tenants who are able to pay also hurts the ability of an owner to help those tenants who really need it.

This problem will require a multifaceted solution set, but must be centered around direct assistance to renters in the form of flexible emergency rental assistance and far more robust stimulus payments.

It is clear that renters need immediate help: last month, a nationwide survey by the National Multifamily Housing Council found that just 69 percent of American renters paid their rent by April 5, a year-over-year decline of 12 percentage points. While the figure rose to 84 percent a week later, there is evidence that these trends are more pronounced in the areas hardest-hit by the coronavirus, like New York City. 

There is no question May will be worse. The national economic crisis has deepened, with tens of millions more out of work, and those who were struggling a month ago are likely facing even tighter budgets today. That is a real threat not just to the individual families but also to our entire economic system.

The affordable housing stock has thinner margins and less cash flow than its market rate counterparts and tends to have less in reserves. Many New York State Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH) member buildings have already seen far lower levels of rent collection than the surveys of residential buildings as a whole have reported.

Rent payments ensure that families live in quality apartments maintained with basic services. It pays the salary of the building service workers who maintain sanitary conditions. Crucially, a suspension of rent would also freeze liquidity that is used to build the affordable and market-rate housing New Yorkers, and Americans across the country, desperately need to ease the housing crisis in the first place.

Rental assistance will keep that system in place while also protecting the most vulnerable among us. By building on the foundation set by the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) program, that assistance can be rapidly distributed, providing immediate housing security to American renters while preserving the sanctity of their buildings.

The fight ahead will not be easy, but it is absolutely necessary. We must all band together and raise our voices as one to demand the real protections that American renters deserve.

Jolie Milstein is the president and CEO of the New York State Association for Affordable Housing. On Twitter @NYSAFAH.

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Renters are Facing an Unprecedented Emergency; We Need a Federal Answer, Not a Rent Strike Thu, 30 Apr 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Our Patients Need Medically-Appropriate Shelter, During Coronavirus Outbreak and Always bellevue hos

(photo: John McCarten/City Council)

What happens when a historic pandemic collides with an unprecedented housing crisis? The inextricable link between housing and health is now more apparent than ever as doctors both care for critically ill patients with the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, and simultaneously scramble to make plans for the most vulnerable in our society who simply have no place to isolate.

Only a few weeks into this crisis, we have seen numerous patients recuperating from COVID-19 who linger for days in the hospital because of their need for medically-appropriate shelter. This highlights the immediate need to establish “medical respite” opportunities. Medical respite facilities are settings that “provide a safe and humane alternative when discharge to home is not possible for people without home,” in the words of the National Healthcare for the Homeless Council. These should be available for any New Yorker in need.

In hospital and emergency medicine, providers are familiar with the idea of a ‘social admission,’ meaning that a patient may enter or remain in the hospital because he or she has no place to safely care for him- or her-self. Reasons range from needing intravenous antibiotics or oxygen supplementation, to simply “aging out” of the ability to care for oneself. Such social admissions often stay in the hospital for weeks or even months longer than would a medically-similar patient with more secure housing and social support.

Today, facilities around the country are keeping homeless patients with the novel coronavirus in hospital beds, sometimes for days, because they lack a secure non-hospital setting in which to isolate. This week in New York has clearly demonstrated that a hospital bed is a dangerously scarce, life-saving resource for critically ill people coming into the hospital in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. 

Based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, if a person develops fever and symptoms of a cold and is concerned about having the novel coronavirus, hospitals are generally recommending: Stay home, keep a safe distance from others, regularly wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water (or hand sanitizer), avoid public transportation, and call your doctor before reporting to one of the already-overcrowded emergency rooms, where people are equally at risk of spreading or contracting the virus. Clearly this is incredibly challenging for any person in the shelter system, living on the street, or living in an overcrowded space. For those who are homeless but avoiding the shelter system, preferring to remain on the street, protecting themselves from close contact with others, even washing their hands, may be next to impossible.  

In just the first few weeks of this crisis, in a small swath of the city, COVID-19 has crudely unearthed every failing of our society when discharging patients back to the community: living 6-8 people in a studio, couch surfing after recent layoffs, and needing to avoid domestic violence. Housing is clearly complex, and the numbers reflected in the official shelter census just scratch the surface of those in our city who may have a need for respite locations.

Clearly, our society is only as resilient as the structures in place to care for the most vulnerable during a time of pandemic. We need rapid, effective access to isolation facilities for homeless and unstably-housed people who are sick but not requiring inpatient care, whether or not they have previously stayed in the shelter system.

The system must be streamlined, with the referral process clearly communicated to hospitals to facilitate expedited transfer from either hospital discharge or outpatient clinics to isolation settings. We need immediate access to individual rooms for people becoming homeless in the wake of the pandemic, having been pushed out of unstable housing or discharged from various institutions. People need the ability to come off the streets with access to individual rooms where they can safely isolate for their safety and that of others.

Every hour and every open hospital bed will count in our management of this crisis to support our inundated healthcare system as we provide life-saving care to the most vulnerable in our city, and all New Yorkers.

By Amanda Ramsdell, MD; William Levine, MD; Aarti Patel, PA-C; Nell Eisenberg, MD; Laura Kolbe, MD; Yinan Lan, MD; Todd Cutler, MD; David Scales, MD, MPhil, PhD; and Lucy Willis, MD. On Twitter @ARamsdell3, @aarthiparthi, @nellbell_e, @laurakolbemd, @todd_cutler, @DavidAScales, @LucyWillisMD

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Our Patients Need Medically-Appropriate Shelter, During Coronavirus Outbreak and Always Wed, 25 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
The Coronavirus Crisis Demands a Federal Emergency Housing Response myabdb

Keeping people in their homes is of the essence, the author writes (photo Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office

The federal response to the economic crisis just over a decade ago swiftly bailed out banks and other financial institutions, but left far too many struggling families in the lurch. It was too little, too late. This was devastatingly true for black families, whose home-ownership rates dropped from 50% to 42%, representing an enormous loss of generational wealth.

We must respond differently this time to ensure that homeowners hold onto their homes and apartment building owners and renters maintain safe and stable housing through the COVID-19 public health crisis that has also spurred an economic one. And because it is a health crisis, we should first prioritize vulnerable populations like those without a home and low-income renters at risk of homelessness.

While we are still processing the gravity of COVID-19’s destructive capacity and the consequences for our families, communities, and economy, as has occurred in past natural disasters, we know the effects on homeless people, low-income renters, and homeowners will be catastrophic unless we act quickly.  Federal housing assistance is desperately needed both to slow the spread of the coronavirus and in response to what is looking like a significant economic downturn as businesses and entire industries may be closed for months while capital markets are in turmoil and job losses skyrocket. 

Emergency housing assistance is a critical component of a comprehensive response of public policy measures to stop the spread. New York already has an alarming number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in homeless shelters. Statewide, there are more than 92,000 homeless people. In addition, 100,000 children were living doubled up last year in overcrowded homes. Without the ability for social distancing or isolation, homeless people are at great risk while living on the street, in congregate shelters, or doubled-up in close quarters.

If the virus spreads through the 841 beds in the Bellevue men’s intake facility, for example, those men could nearly fill the 1,000-bed naval hospital ship scheduled to sail to New York City to bolster hospital capacity next month.

Federal resources must be appropriated for a swift response or COVID-19 is certain to rip through congregate shelters, street homeless communities, and reverse other containment efforts. Congress must appropriate at least $15 billion in McKinney-Vento Emergency Solutions Grants to move homeless people off the streets and out of crowded shelters. 

Rental assistance and rapid re-housing programs can be used, as they have in the aftermath of other national crises, to house vulnerable populations. This time, these housing programs can also save lives.

The White House and Senate Republicans have included zero emergency housing assistance in the stimulus package currently being negotiated. This is a strategy to fill hospital beds at a rapid pace and further overwhelm our health care system.

And while they are proposing direct assistance — up to $1,200 to individuals — it will be insufficient, particularly in high-cost markets. In New York City, where 50% of all households already pay more than 30% of their income towards rent, the median rent was $1,450 in 2017.

According to the New York State Department of Labor data, in January there were roughly 1.3 million people in the state working in hospitality jobs in the arts, hotels, or restaurants and bars, or in retail jobs like clothing, electronics, and sports. Most of these people are now out of a job.  Their income has been reduced to zero.

We are grateful that these workers will have the protection of the state’s foreclosure and eviction moratoriums. However even with this, people aren’t going to be able to afford the back payments in six or 12 months. A moratorium alone is only kicking the can down the road. We need assistance now that is appropriately sized to cover household costs.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac offered loan forbearance for building owners who offer protections to their renters. This approach makes sense because it shows that we are all connected and in it together, even when we are trying to keep six feet apart. But much more needs to be done.

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), steward of New York City’s most affordable housing, also estimates that it will need $300 million in additional operating funds to cover rent losses, and additional time and contractors to keep up with the higher standards of cleaning now required to protect its 400,000-plus residents. All properties assisted by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Section 8 program will face the same challenge of declining income and insufficient funding. Congress must include these critical HUD programs in the stimulus to ensure that these programs are fully funded and families are not kicked off programs due to lack of funds.

We urge Congress to do the right thing this time and ensure there is emergency housing assistance in the economic stimulus and coronavirus recovery bill that protects renters and homeowners across the nation. This is how we can do better than our response in 2008, help families hang onto their homes and vulnerable renters stay in their apartments.

Rachel Fee is Executive Director of New York Housing Conference, a statewide affordable housing policy organization. On Twitter @RachelFeeNYHC & @theNYHC.

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The Coronavirus Crisis Demands a Federal Emergency Housing Response Mon, 23 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Health and Housing are Inextricably Linked; My Patients Need Home Stability Support rafael sala holds

A push for a new state homelessness-housing voucher continues (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

As a doctor in the hospital, I bear witness to some of the most severe downstream effects of health inequity in our community. In my field, I care for any person who presents to the emergency room and is then deemed too sick to be discharged. Through years of clinical service, I have come to appreciate housing as the most vital component of a person’s ability to stay well.

More recently, research surrounding individuals experiencing homelessness has highlighted the increased risk of trauma, rapid aging and development of geriatric syndromes, and increased risk of death at an earlier age compared to people who have stable housing.

In essence, people in our community who are experiencing homelessness are becoming sicker faster and dying at an alarming rate. Compounded with the fact that we are facing the worst homelessness crisis since the Great Depression, our state needs to act now.

A proposed statewide rent subsidy program known as Home Stability Support would be a critical step forward in changing the trajectory of so many people and families struggling with one of the most basic human needs. The proposal would help individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless in providing realistic rental assistance that would result in successful housing. 

The majority of my patients are highly medically complex and experiencing social struggles that complicate their recoveries. I have the privilege and honor of hearing people’s stories while working in my field and am humbled each time a person describes the painful experience of attempting to maintain their health while concurrently managing an unstable living situation or navigating the shelter system.

Being discharged from the hospital with a new list of medications and follow-up instructions after a severe disease state can be complicated in otherwise ideal situations. For a person experiencing homelessness, who is tasked with the additional worry of safety, exposure, or navigating the housing system, we can easily see their diseases rapidly worsen after leaving the hospital and see them end up back in the emergency room. This is no cycle that any human being should experience. 

Even if not homeless at the time, my patients have additionally asked to leave the hospital before medically treated because missing another day of work would put their ability to pay rent in jeopardy. As a doctor, tasked with attempting to alleviate suffering and treat disease, it pains me to witness people having to choose between keeping their housing and their health. With 23,000 more New Yorkers becoming homeless than leaving homelessness each year, Home Stability Support would critically address people at risk of eviction in addition to people currently homeless, preventing so much of the endless suffering and potential health complications that accompany losing your home.

Homelessness, while not officially recognized as an Adverse Childhood Experience (events linked to increased risk of numerous conditions including cancer, lung disease, heart disease and early death), does place children at higher risk of ACE exposure and poor health outcomes later in life. In hearing frequent stories of childhood trauma amongst my patients with high biopsychosocial complexity, I can only think of the needless suffering that a program like Home Stability Support would prevent. We already know, but clearly don’t fully appreciate, the potential risk we take allowing 150,000 children in our state to experience homelessness, as was the case in the last two years.

In hearing the critical steps this statewide proposal would take to effectively alleviate and prevent immediate homelessness, this is our chance to speak out as citizens and urge our State Legislature and Governor to work together to pass, fund, and quickly implement this initiative and help move people from the shelter systems to homes where they can begin to heal. I encourage any healthcare provider who has had the privilege of caring for patients with unstable housing to speak out similarly and support the Home Stability Support proposal.

Amanda Ramsdell, M.D., is an Internal Medicine Physician at New York Presbyterian in New York City and Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College. On Twitter @ARamsdell3.

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Health and Housing are Inextricably Linked; My Patients Need Home Stability Support Mon, 16 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
New York Must Halt Evictions Amid Coronavirus Pandemic daily life imageryshot

People need secure housing for themselves & others (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)

No one is immune to the novel coronavirus: The World Health Organization recently declared the outbreak a pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency, and the congressional doctor reportedly expects up to 150 million citizens to be infected.

Do you know who is most vulnerable to COVID-19? Health professionals have identified people who are elderly and sick as particularly at risk, but we must not forget those who are poor or homeless. New York City has the largest homeless population in the country, and our homeless shelters are ill-equipped to deal with a highly contagious disease. Now is the time for New York to act by protecting the most vulnerable New Yorkers.

Our government can mitigate this growing public health crisis in several ways. One is that New York State should institute an eviction moratorium immediately. Eviction moratorium plans are already underway in San Jose and San Francisco -- and many more cities are expected to follow.

An eviction moratorium in New York is the bold and sensible action we need. Taking this important step not only gives reprieve to thousands of tenants from becoming homeless, which is necessary in itself, it would also slow the growth of this pandemic. As studies have shown again and again, good housing policy is truly also good healthcare policy.

As a housing attorney, I see thousands of people pass through New York City housing court daily. These tenants are disproportionately poor, black and Latino, immigrants, LGBT people, seniors, people with disabilities, and women. In fact, New York City’s Open Data Portal shows over 3,000 executed evictions have taken place since January 2020. Each eviction places already vulnerable seniors and people with health issues -- their families and everyone they come in contact with in the court system -- at further risk.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has urged New Yorkers to limit nonessential commuting, but how do we expect thousands of tenants to heed this call when they must commute to work to try to make rent? Or commute to court or risk losing their home there? How do we expect poor people, who may be exhibiting symptoms of infection, to self-quarantine, when there is nowhere to quarantine if they lose their home? We need an eviction moratorium now.

Legal services organizations, and the unions representing thousands of attorneys, paralegals, and advocates, have reached out to Governor Cuomo and Chief Judge DiFiore of the Office of Court Administration to implement measures to: stay warrants of eviction, adjourn cases rather than issuing defaults, and provide litigants with the opportunity to appear by videoconferencing. The Right to Counsel NYC Coalition has called on the governor to close housing court, except for applications for emergency relief. These requests are still pending.

As the pandemic grows, so does the growing chorus of advocacy groups demanding an eviction moratorium. A recent online petition, organized by the Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance and Housing Justice for All, garnered over 2,000 signatures in one day alone. And, there is mounting momentum among elected officials, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who issued a public letter calling on Chief Judge DiFiore to declare a moratorium on evictions immediately. State Senators Brad Hoylman and Brian Kavanagh are introducing legislation to enact a statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures during the coronavirus pandemic and future emergency declarations.

While we wait on Governor Cuomo, the State Legislature, and Chief Judge DiFiore to act on the state level, Mayor de Blasio can act on the city level. The mayor can and should institute a moratorium on all NYCHA eviction-related cases in public housing. During Hurricane Sandy, NYCHA instituted an eviction moratorium in response to the urging and advocacy of The Legal Aid Society. In addition to the eviction moratorium we saw during Hurricane Sandy, the precedent exists in the winter months for broadly similar reasons raised now regarding public health concerns of homelessness and the real risks to life.

The coronavirus pandemic is highlighting some of the greatest inequalities in our society. On the national level, we are hearing the demand for large-scale programs such as national paid sick leave and Medicare for All. Given the state of our federal government, these are worthy long-term goals that, at the moment, are theoretical responses to the current crisis. In the meantime, there is at least one simple and immediate proposal on the table right now in New York: an eviction moratorium, and we can get it done immediately.

Jason Wu is a housing attorney for The Legal Aid Society of New York and a Trustee for the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, UAW 2325. On Twitter @CriticalRace.

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New York Must Halt Evictions Amid Coronavirus Pandemic Thu, 12 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
5 Steps to Properly Combat Housing Discrimination in New York court water board

(photo: Edwin J. Torres/ Mayoral Photography Office)

The landmark report on housing discrimination on Long Island recently published by Newsday requires action by government and the real estate industry in the region but also in Albany and statewide. The rampant discrimination revealed is not limited to Long Island and displays a dramatic failure by New York State government that must be corrected.

Newsday’s three-year investigation of real estate sales practices on Long Island – titled “Long Island Divided” – involved paired testers (one white, the other “of color”) and revealed widespread separate and unequal treatment of potential homebuyers who were black, Hispanic, and Asian, and of other minority communities. Black testers experienced disparate treatment 49 percent of the time, compared with 39 percent for Hispanics and 19 percent for Asian testers.

The results of Newsday’s investigation mirror those of an earlier investigation that our two organizations jointly conducted to determine whether black renters on Long Island were being discriminated against in the housing options that they were offered. Our similar use of paired testing revealed that in both Nassau and Suffolk counties property owners and management companies were showing apartments to white applicants and not to black applicants. Our findings led to successful litigation resulting in court-mandated settlements in 2014 and 2016 with the offending rental housing providers. 

The challenge for New York State government is that racial discrimination in housing in New York is systemic. The problem is not limited to the sales or rental market or to the real estate industry. It’s not limited to Long Island. The stark patterns of residential racial segregation evident across the state – and throughout the nation – were created by the intentional and coordinated actions of the federal and state governments, housing industry, and other institutions over many decades, and this segregation has been sustained by the same institutions.

The Fair Housing Justice Center and ERASE Racism have, therefore, developed a five-point plan to address this widespread pattern of residential racial discrimination.

First, fully utilize the licensing power of the State to better regulate real estate licensees. States possess the authority to regulate the behavior of licensed businesses and individuals. New York should more effectively exercise its authority to regulate the real estate industry. Among other actions, the New York Department of State’s Division of Licensing Services should review the results of the Newsday investigation to determine if any of the licensees engaged in conduct that warrants disciplinary action including possible suspension or revocation of licenses.

Second, create a well-resourced, proactive, and better coordinated fair housing enforcement strategy. The public agencies charged with enforcing local, state, and federal fair housing should coordinate efforts to review Newsday’s findings to determine if any warrant enforcement action to obtain compliance with fair housing laws. Greater emphasis should be placed on conducting investigations aimed at documenting systemic housing discrimination. While complaints still need to be investigated in a timely and thorough manner, significant resources must also be devoted to conducting proactive testing investigations. 

Housing discrimination has evolved over time. Before passage of fair housing laws, discrimination was overt. Housing consumers of color were frequently met with slammed doors and racial epithets. Now the “slammed door” has been replaced with a “revolving door” where people are often politely escorted in and then away from the desired housing. The victimized person is usually unaware that discrimination occurred, and this reality calls into question the efficacy of public agencies solely pursing a complaint-responsive approach to enforcing fair housing laws. 

Third, the real estate industry should take affirmative steps to ensure compliance with fair housing laws. The Long Island Board of Realtors has a special responsibility here, but industry-wide action is needed. The industry’s trade association should provide model fair housing policy statements – and explain the consequences of non-compliance – to member real estate firms and their agents detailing best practices in non-discriminatory real estate sales and marketing. Real estate companies should adopt affirmative hiring practices to create more diverse sales forces.

Fourth, affirmatively further fair housing in all housing and community development activities at the local, state, and federal levels. In that connection, New York State should amend its Human Rights Law in two ways. First, it should explicitly prohibit discriminatory action by local public agencies involved in housing, land-use and zoning, or community development to ensure that their efforts are not perpetuating segregation by making housing unavailable based on race, national origin, etc. Second, similar to what California did in 2018, the law should require state agencies and departments, local jurisdictions, public housing authorities, and other public entities receiving state or federal funds for housing and community development to “affirmatively further fair housing” and take no action that is materially inconsistent with this obligation.

Fifth, New York State should implement fair housing legislative initiatives, policy changes, and support for programs that expand access to housing opportunities in all neighborhoods. Among other actions, the State should allocate funding for regional mobility assistance programs that help families with rental subsidies to access housing opportunities in low-poverty neighborhoods with well-resourced schools. The State should enact a statewide “Equitable Share” housing plan and establish a minimum affordable housing goal for every community. The State should also create a Statewide Zoning Appeals Board to ensure that local decisions meet State standards.

The issues illuminated by Newsday’s investigation have been exposed for all to see. Legislative initiatives, policy changes, and enforcement action are now required to address the State’s widespread failings, which have become all too self-evident.

Elaine Gross is President of ERASE Racism, the Long Island-based civil rights organization. Fred Freiberg is Executive Director of the Fair Housing Justice Center, a regional fair housing organization based in New York City. On Twitter @EraseRacism & @FredFreiberg.

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5 Steps to Properly Combat Housing Discrimination in New York Tue, 18 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000