NY Legislature Passes $100M Rent Voucher Bill

On May 28, the State Senate and Assembly voted to approve a bill to create a $100 million fund to pay rents for people who have lost income because of the COVID-19 crisis. The Emergency Rent Relief Act of 2020 passed the Senate by a vote of 61-0 and the Assembly by a 98-45 margin. It now heads to Governor Cuomo. The bill was authored by Senator Brian Kavanagh of Manhattan and Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz of Brooklyn, and it replaced Senator Michael Gianaris’ rent and mortgage cancellation bill, which would waive rent for residential and commercial tenants affected by the pandemic and partially forgive mortgage payments for landlords who lose rent from tenants during the same period.

The program, administered by the state Department of Housing and Community Renewal, will offer rent vouchers to New Yorkers earning less than 80 percent of the area median income both now and before the pandemic struck in March. The vouchers are funded by $100 million from the federal CARES Act. Eighty percent AMI is $63,680 for a single person and $90,960 for a family of four.

The amount of the voucher would be calculated to cover “the gap between [a tenant’s] pre-COVID rent burden and their new rent burden” up to 125 percent of the federally mandated fair market rent. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development determines fair market rent on a county and city-wide basis. For example, fair market rent for a studio in the New York metro area is $1,714.

Tenants who apply must meet the income threshold, spend more than 30 percent of their monthly income on rent, and be able to document lost income since March 7. Income includes “all wages, tips, overtime, salary, recurring gifts, returns on investments, welfare assistance, Social Security payments, child support payments, unemployment benefits” and any other government benefits meant to replace lost income or rental payments, according to the legislation. As with the federal Section 8 voucher program, the subsidy will be paid directly to the landlord.