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Another Voice: With many burdened, rent protections are needed here

By Tom Waters
and John Washington

Buffalo’s so-called resurgence is a thin veil for a housing crisis that is displacing the city’s most vulnerable residents. Over half of Buffalo tenants are spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent, according to a new report from the Community Service Society of New York. That means their housing is not affordable according to national standards. In fact, more than 40,000 Buffalo households are paying over half their income as rent every month, often for homes that are in deep need of repair.

Tenants who demand needed repairs risk being punished with eviction. Each year, thousands of tenants are run through a housing court system that renders them powerless because they can be evicted without just cause.

Now, more than ever, tenants need protection from a ruthless real estate market. That’s why advocates have been pushing to strengthen tenant protections around the state.

One proposal narrowly targets people with some of the greatest needs of all – those receiving public assistance who are either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. This plan, known as Home Stability Support, would create a new state-funded rent subsidy to bridge the gap between the inadequate existing shelter allowance and a modest rent, currently about $712 for a one-bedroom apartment in Erie County.

We also want to see the state give local governments like Buffalo’s the ability to opt into rent stabilization. Currently only New York City, Nassau, Rockland, and Westchester counties can opt into this program, which limits rent increases in buildings of six or more apartments built before 1974, based on guidelines set by local boards that are charged with considering landlords’ costs and tenants’ incomes.

Perhaps most important, we want to protect tenants from arbitrary eviction by passing Good Cause Eviction legislation. It would apply to all rented homes except those in small owner-occupied buildings. It would allow evictions only for reasons like non-payment of rent, damage to the property, and creating a nuisance.

Tenants would also have the right to a renewal at the end of their lease terms, without an “unconscionable” increase of more than one and a half times the rate of inflation. Landlords would be able to argue against this presumption by showing a valid reason based on costs.

These are all good, practical policies that respond to the housing crisis as it’s being felt in Buffalo – not just in higher-market cities far away. Local Assembly and State Senate members should be supporting all of them.

Tom Waters is a housing policy analyst at the Community Service Society. John Washington is co-director of organizing at People United for Sustainable Housing.

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