This is an op-ed written by State Assembly representative Anna Kelles. It was not written by The Ithaca Voice. To submit op-eds for publication, please send them to Matt Butler at firstname.lastname@example.org.
New York is in a state of a severe housing crisis. Rents are soaring and evictions have surged back to pre-pandemic rates. According to the American Community Survey from the US Census Bureau, from 2015 to 2019 rents in Tompkins County increased by 18%, the second-highest county increase in the state. Since 2020, rents in Tompkins County shot up more than 12% from these 2019 levels.
Parallel to the increases in rent, since 2007, the homeless population in New York State has almost doubled and in 2020 we earned the unfortunate title of the state with the highest rate of homelessness. Access to adequate housing is not only a human right but a foundation of ensuring individual and community public health.
Households across New York State are experiencing extreme levels of housing insecurity. According to a NYU Furman Center Report on housing insecurity, 72% of NY households earning $15k or less are severely rent-burdened. Housing insecurity leads to generational poverty, an increase in crime, fractured families, reduced job stability, increased food insecurity, reduced educational achievement, and poorer self-reported health. Housing insecurity is also a significant risk factor for homelessness. Unfortunately, housing insecurity is getting worse across the State, further exacerbated by COVID.
A bill pending in the State Legislature will address these troubling trends. Sponsored by Assemblymember Pam Hunter and Senator Julia Salazar, Good Cause (A5573/S3082) will prevent unjustified and excessive rent hikes that exacerbate housing instability and will also guarantee the rental industry a fair rate of return. Additionally, the bill is designed to prevent indiscriminate practices to terminate tenancies for the purpose of flipping a building for profit.
Good Cause gives tenants power to challenge steep and sudden rent increases by tying rent increases to the rate of inflation. The bill defines a “reasonable” rent increase as either 3% or 1.5 times the Consumer Price Index (whichever is higher). The bill would also enable tenants to take a landlord to court if they attempt to evict a tenant for not paying the new, higher rent. If a landlord wants to deny a lease renewal, they would need to be prepared to justify the decision in court.
This bill does not stop landlords from raising rents, evicting tenants who aren’t paying rent, or evicting tenants who break any agreement as defined in the lease. This bill also does not prevent landlords from evicting tenants who are disturbing or creating an unsafe threatening environment for their neighbors. And finally, it doesn’t stop landlords from investing in their properties. Under Good Cause, landlords can further raise the rent if they have expensive repairs or make improvements to their property.
What Good Cause does is create a code of conduct between landlords and tenants by setting reasonable expectations for behavior on both sides and it threads a needle to preserve an environment where small community landlords can thrive.
This kind of code is needed more than ever as the housing market gets taken over by large real estate corporations and private equity firms that make their money not by taking care of tenants and property, but by hiking rents, ignoring repairs, and pushing longtime tenants out – all to flip the property and make quick cash.
Predatory behavior isn’t just bad for tenants. It’s also bad for neighborhoods. Studies have found that lack of access to housing adversely impacts public safety, makes it harder for kids to succeed in school, jeopardizes public health, and leads to reduced job stability. When predatory landlords are allowed to run rampant, we all pay the price.
Many states have already passed similar laws, including Oregon, Connecticut, and New Jersey, which has had a Good Cause-like law on the books for nearly 50 years, and where new apartment construction has continued to boom, even as the state’s eviction rates hover far below New York’s.
It is the government’s responsibility to provide guardrails against bad actors, especially when it comes to a basic human right like housing. Good Cause has been proven to protect tenants and stabilize communities and now is the right time to take this critical action.