New Jersey Citizen Action joins advocates in applauding landmark homeowner and tenant COVID-19 bill passed by Assembly Housing Committee
Legislation will provide strongest national standard to keep impacted families in their homes
The Assembly Housing Committee approved landmark legislation today designed to head off a wave of foreclosures and evictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, after hearing from more than 40 housing and community advocates who testified in support of the bill.
The bill passed by the Committee merges the “People’s Bill” sponsored by Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake (D-Essex) with legislation that had previously passed the Senate sponsored by Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) into a combined bill that now heads to the floor of both houses. The legislation would establish the nation’s strongest set of uniform statewide standards designed to keep families struggling with the COVID-19 crisis in their homes.
“Throughout this crisis New Jersey Citizen Action has heard from people daily who are terrified they will not be able to pay their rent or their mortgages and that they will lose their homes when the eviction moratorium ends,” said Beverly Brown Ruggia, Financial Justice Organizer for New Jersey Citizen Action. “This legislation addresses the deep economic pain New Jerseyans are experiencing and it recognizes people of color in the state have been disproportionately hurt by the COVID 19 crisis. It provides a sound and compassionate economic recovery for all in New Jersey.”
“The economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting families of color in New Jersey hardest,” Fair Share Housing Center Director of Racial Justice Policy James Williams said. “At a time when people across our state are marching in the street to dismantle systemic racism, this legislation recognizes the role discriminatory housing policies, including racist lending policies and redlining, have played in putting African-American and Latino families at risk of losing their homes in the current crisis. It represents an important step forward in preventing mass displacement at a time of unprecedented crisis. We must be careful to recognize that mass evictions are a tool used to gentrify communities of color.”
The bill builds off the successful framework civil rights and community-based organizations advocated for to protect residents from displacement in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.
Mortgage companies, under this legislation, would be required to offer forbearance agreements with impacted families that give homeowners the opportunity to make up any missed payments at the end of their mortgage terms. And renters will be provided six months to make up the rent for every month missed, a compromise standard advanced by the Committee today. The bill would also prevent landlords and banks from negatively impacting the credit of renters and homeowners based on late payments during the COVID-19 crisis.
The legislation, which passed the Senate in April, will now move to a vote before the full Assembly. It must then head back to the Senate for concurrence on several amendments approved by the committee that strengthened protections for residents before going to Governor Murphy for his signature.
“I applauded the governor back in March when he announced a freeze on evictions and foreclosures and a mortgage forbearance,” said Joe Mangino, Board President of the New Jersey Organizing Project. “I reached out to my bank and realized the fine print – banks were being asked to defer the forbearance payment to the end of the loan. This was voluntary and there was no mandate. My bank, and many others, are not volunteering and must be told. Today June 16th, while I was testifying in support of A4226, is coincidentally the same day that my 90-day forbearance ends, and my mortgage company is expecting a lump sum payment to bring my mortgage current. We need to give homeowners and renters a fighting chance to survive.”
“As a small business owner I feel this bill is an absolute necessity,” said small business owner Eugene T. Barnes. “I run As One Entertainment, a live event production company. When Covid-19 hit my business came to a complete halt. I feel behind on several bills including my personal rent. Thankfully I was fortunate enough to be able to take advantage of available small business relief grants but I know plenty of people who were not as fortunate and are still struggling. My business is operating but any lack in funding could prove detrimental to me and my family. I urge the state of New Jersey to look at this not as a matter of landlord and tenant but as a human issue.
“Halfway through March, when quarantine was announced due to COVID-19, I lost my job at Target in Mays Landing, where I’ve been established the past three years. My biggest fear in not paying my rent is my credit being affected negatively,” said Carlos Bonilla of the New Jersey Organizing Project. “This year alone I’ve been focusing on trying to build my credit, and it would be aggravating to see my score drop because I cannot afford my rent. At the end of the day we should all continue to remain in our homes as the pandemic continues to grow. We at New Jersey Organizing Project support renters’ right to a home, and we want this bill to be passed for the sake of the renters in our communities.”
“NJ has received more than 1 million unemployment claims, which means that household incomes are in flux, in decline, or in doubt,” said Staci Berger, President and CEO of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey. “Rents here are among the most expensive in the nation. A minimum wage worker would need to work three full time jobs to afford a modest two bedroom apartment, before the pandemic. People cannot stay home safely now, or in the future, if they do not have a safe, affordable place to call home. The pandemic has affirmed what community leaders and health experts have been saying: thousing is health. NJ tenants and homeowners need this protection to ensure that the public health crisis does not become a housing disaster.”
“We thank Assemblywoman Timberlake for her leadership in introducing the People’s Bill that will show real compassion towards both renters and homeowners in New Jersey during this pandemic,” said Maria Lopez-Nunez, Deputy Director of Organizing & Advocacy for Ironbound Community Corporation. “This bill will help everyone, including undocumented residents, who have been unable to access other government relief programs. We also applaud Senator Singleton, for moving this bill forward in the senate too and we need to see this bill signed into law by Governor Murphy before another month of rent is due on July 1st. Doing so will make New Jersey a real leader in providing renter and homeowner protections during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
New Jersey Citizen Action is a statewide advocacy and social service organization that fights for social, racial and economic justice for all while also meeting the pressing needs of low and moderate income New Jerseyans through education and direct service.