Gov. Murphy signs comprehensive housing bills impacting renters and landlords
TRENTON – After more than a year of strong advocacy from legislative champions, community leaders and housing advocates, Governor Murphy today signed into law two bills that provide critical rental protections for vulnerable tenants and prepare for the end of NJ’s removal moratorium. The legislative package is one of the most comprehensive in the nation, providing relief for renters and landlords.
“During the pandemic, we all witnessed how very much housing is health. This legislation is a prescription for preventing evictions, which disproportionately harm Black and Brown families with children. New Jersey is leading the nation by preventing tenants from being evicted for owing back rent during the pandemic and by getting rental assistance to impacted tenants and landlords as quickly as possible,” said Staci Berger, president and chief executive officer of the Housing and Community Development Network (the Network). “We look forward to working with all of the stakeholders involved in this effort and making sure everyone in NJ is safely and stably housed.”
The first bill, S3691, converts missed rental payments from March 1, 2020 and August 31, 2021 to civil debt and cannot be reported to creditors or be used to deny future housing. The bill also contains a provision that allocates $500 million of American Rescue Plan dollars for rental assistance under the NJ Department of Community Affairs (DCA) as well as $250 million for utility payments. Finally, the bill protects New Jersey tenants earning at or below 120 of their county’s area median income (AMI) from being evicted for missed rental payments during the public health emergency.
“The pandemic sapped the economic resources of many working-class families particularly among communities of color,” said Frank Argote-Freyre, chair, Latino Action Network Foundation. “It was a once in a century crisis that left families impoverished and unable to pay their rents. This legislation offers families an opportunity to reclaim their lives and stay in their homes. It further cements Governor Murphy’s progressive legacy and his dream of creating a more inclusive New Jersey.”
Housing advocates said further protections would also result from a second bill signed today, A4463. As a result of that law, renters’ court records related to missed rent during the emergency period would remain confidential and unavailable to the public. Under the new law, all pandemic-related eviction actions would redact all names and addresses reducing the possibility of an additional tenant blacklist that could prevent tens of thousands of families from finding homes in the future.
“Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, advocates have worked with stakeholders and state leaders to keep all New Jerseyans safe in their homes with comprehensive housing protections against foreclosures and evictions,” said Beverly Brown Ruggia, financial justice program director, New Jersey Citizen Action. “Governor Murphy’s signature on this bill represents a welcome and significant milestone in the long struggle to protect all New Jersey tenants and homeowners from losing their homes. However, there is more work to do. It is critical that we make sure these polices are implemented effectively and that additional steps are taken, including making more funds available, to achieve the strongest COVID housing protections and recovery possible.”
Nearly 90,000 tenant eviction cases have been filed in New Jersey since the public health emergency began in March 2020 and advocates have supported this legislative package to prevent an eviction tsunami and ensure renters and landlords are economically stable following the end of the pandemic. The bills signed today are supported by Compassionate NJ, a coalition of housing advocates and community leaders seeking protections for homeowners and renters impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the already bubbling housing crisis to a fever pitch. The signing of this bill will help cool off some of the pressure, but we must remain committed to protecting our most vulnerable because housing is a human right.” Maria Lopez-Nuñez of the Newark-based Ironbound Community Corporation.
“Fair Share Housing Center believes this legislation will be an important step in keeping many New Jerseyans from being evicted,” said James Williams, director of racial justice policy, Fair Share Housing Center. “There is more work to do and we look forward to working with the legislature and Gov. Murphy in providing more housing resources.”
While the legislation signed today is geared towards tenants and landlords, members of Compassionate NJ note that assistance for homeowners is also on the way, through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the NJ Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (NJHMFA). In June, the CFPB released extensive mortgage servicing regulations to provide transparency for families exiting forbearance programs. In the majority of cases, servicers can initiate a foreclosure action only after they’ve submitted a loss mitigation application that either isn’t eligible for, breaks or rejects a loss mitigation agreement. The CFPB regulations strongly encourage homeowners and lenders to enter into discussions towards a resolution.
Finally, a program under the NJ Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency that would provide financial assistance for homeowners with payment arrears, is currently under federal review. The proposed program would be funded through the American Rescue Plan.
“We’re hopeful that between the CFPB rules, and the NJHMFA program that New Jersey families who fell behind on their mortgages or got in forbearance programs can get current again through the grant program and avoid foreclosure and homelessness. It’s critical we hear from people about how the program is working for them so we can advocate for changes that our communities need. New Jerseyans seeking more information on these changes should check out “paying the bills” on www.covidnj.com and those seeking help and housing counseling should go to www.housinghelpnj.org.” said Amanda Devecka-Rinear of the New Jersey Organizing Project.