New Jersey lawmakers are pushing to prevent the expected flood of evictions and foreclosures for non-payment of rent or mortgages during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Evictions have been suspended in accordance with an order from Gov. Phil Murphy. But that protection expires two months after the end of the public health emergency he declared to fight the pandemic. This health emergency will end shortly after Murphy and top Democrats in the legislature adopted the bill Thursday until the end About all the orders he issued during the pandemic.
The legislation was passed by both chambers by a vote divided along party lines after lively debate. In the Senate, lawmakers sometimes struggled to hear each other over the loud chants of protesters and police sirens outside the State House. In a statement after the vote, Murphy said he plans to sign the bill on Friday, as well as issue an executive order lifting the public health emergency order.
Meanwhile, an Assembly committee this week approved a bill to provide mortgage benefits to residential property owners. Earlier, a similar bill stalled in the Senate, but Senator Brian Stack (D-Union) has introduced another measure to address the eviction problem.
The Housing Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved the bill (A-5684) that would grant a mortgage grace period of at least six months to any homeowner who faced financial hardship during the pandemic, has a gross household income of no more than 150% of the region’s median income and has less than six months of cash reserves in his or her Bank account.
Preventing eviction for non-payment
Another account (A-5685) will prevent the eviction of tenants in low- and middle-income households for non-payment or common delay in paying rent between March 1, 2020 and July 31, 2021. Rent arrears during this time will be considered a civic debt that the homeowner could pursue in court.
New measures effectively replace earlier bill, also known as the People’s Law, which would codify Murphy’s ban and give tenants a full 2.5 years to pay off rental arrears accumulated during the pandemic. Landlords have vehemently opposed the measure, saying their finances have already been severely challenged by the inability to evict insolvent tenants during COVID-19, and that they should not be expected to fund a long maturity period.
The new bills contain provisions that recognize the needs of both tenants and homeowners. One notes that thousands of renters were unable to pay all or part of their rent during the pandemic, and it will be “extremely difficult” for them to make future payments once rental claims are renewed.
The bill says black and brown communities have been particularly hard hit by the economic downturn caused by the pandemic and are at risk of being evicted for non-payment or partial payment of rents after the end of the moratorium.
He warns that the flood of evictions and related housing overcrowding could lead to renewed COVID-19 infections.
Help for landlords
But the bill also recognizes that homeowners have taken on the burden of protecting more than 1 million tenants during the pandemic, while receiving “little or no” financial assistance from the state or federal government.
“It is unfair to require private sector homeowners to provide such housing without compensation or assistance, while requiring them to continue to maintain the property and pay their financial obligations, including state and local taxes,” the sponsored bill says. in the Senate by Senators Brian Stack (Hudson Democracy), Ronald Rice (Essex County) and Teresa Ruiz (Essex County).
David Brogan, executive director of the New Jersey Housing Association, which represents mostly large landlords, said the law would help landlords recover from the roughly 15% -30% drop in rental income during the pandemic, although it is unlikely to help them.
He welcomed the bill, but said it won’t help restore homeowners’ finances until after Murphy’s moratorium is lifted – an event that will be postponed until the end of the year under an executive order bill that the Legislature voted on Thursday.
“If we are going to extend the eviction moratorium until January 1 and do not provide significant assistance to landlords, you will see that tenants will accumulate more and more debt, and small landlords will go bankrupt in hundreds, if not thousands,” he said.
Where is the money that was sent to New Jersey?
Brogan said nearly $ 600 million was sent to New Jersey federal and municipal agencies in December, but very little of that money was paid to landlords. At the state level, the Department of Community Affairs is responsible for allocating funds.
Housing advocates said they are generally satisfied with the provisions of the new bills and hope they will soon have the force of law, as opposed to the People’s Bill.
The overall goal of the new bills is “to keep people out of the streets,” said Adam Tucker, spokesman for New Jersey Citizen Action, a community organization dedicated to social, racial and economic justice. While the group would like to see additional protections in the People’s Bill, the measure does not appear to have a future in the Legislature and therefore the new bills address many of the group’s concerns, Tucker said.
“It’s a practical consideration – they have a chance to get past the People’s Bill, and they cover a lot, but not all,” he said.
Tucker’s group is calling for amendments to new bills that will include measures to prevent the assignment of debt to third parties; to protect the tenants’ loan from the negative impact of the eviction application, and to extend the mortgage grace period by two years.
Courts filed thousands of eviction applications
Housing advocates previously predicted a “tsunami” of evictions, with the governor’s moratorium ending two months after the public health emergency was announced, a point that appears to be getting closer as COVID-19 cases decline and vaccination rates in the state is growing.
While the eviction order prevented the courts from deciding on homeowners’ eviction requests during the pandemic, they continued to take cases to courts, and housing advocates predicted there would be a flood of court-ordered evictions for non-payment of rent as soon as the order was withdrawn. The judiciary reports that between May 2020 and the end of April 2021, 58,135 eviction applications were filed.
In a Housing Committee hearing, housing advocates voiced support for A-5684. “This will go a long way towards helping homeowners in our state move forward, especially low-income homeowners,” said Drew Curtis of the Ironbound Community Corporation in Newark.
But he called for amendments, including applying the law to all banks; extending homeowner protection to at least two years; and providing protection for small homeowners.
Assemblyman Britney Timberlake, Essex, said she would push for the amendments, as well as protect people affected by the sale of property tax liens during the pandemic.
Timberlake, the main sponsor of the People’s Bill, said she wants Bill A-5684 to prevent an increase in foreclosures. “We need to make sure we don’t exacerbate the problem of losing wealth,” she said.