The Legislature reconvened in Albany on Wednesday in order to extend the state’s moratorium on evictions. The Special Session, which concluded after many New Yorkers had gone to sleep, was needed to extend the state’s misguided eviction moratorium until January 15, 2022. The bill itself is almost as flawed as the process that led up to its passage.
Only seven states in the country are still forcing landlords to operate under an eviction moratorium. Four additional months (at a minimum) of “cancelling rent” here in New York comes only after Albany dysfunction and Majority members’ delays held up $2.3 billion in federal rental assistance funding. The funding from Washington was approved in January, but the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) did not begin to get money out the door until this summer.
By every metric, the previous administration failed miserably at moving this critical funding through the Office of Temporary Disability Assistance (OTDA), the state agency tasked with distributing relief funds. New York remains among the slowest states to deliver ERAP assistance to struggling tenants and landlords. Had OTDA simply done its job, the impetus for this week’s chaotic and secretive session would never have existed in the first place.
Instead, landlords facing enormous financial pressure to pay their mortgages, taxes and utility bills will continue to shoulder those costs without duly-owed rent. Under the extended moratorium, landlords can only recover existing back rent if they agree not to evict tenants for another 12 months. Simply put, participation in the ERAP program triggers an eviction moratorium all on its own. The state’s small-property owners are damned if they do, damned if they don’t.
In addition, this week’s Special Session also highlighted the total dysfunction of government operations in New York. In one of her first official acts, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed off on a measure that would suspend New York’s Open Meetings Law, a measure that provides a critical outlet for public participation in government. There is no shortage of irony that Albany’s method of modifying the Open Meetings Law was to advance the bill without public input, public review or any public participation whatsoever. For a governor who has boldly proclaimed her commitment to transparency from the day she was installed, hiding this measure from 20 million New Yorkers does not instill confidence.
Overall, New Yorkers were on the losing end of this week’s backroom deal making and the old-school Albany approach to governing. This is a dubious start for a new administration that made promises of open government and a new day in Albany. Every New Yorker has a right to wonder how this represents an improvement from the previous one.