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Another Voice: Buffalo tenants need protection from Good Cause bill

Another Voice: Buffalo tenants need protection from Good Cause bill

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As a challenging year comes to a close and spirits begin to sink with no end in sight for the Covid-19 pandemic, tenants struggling to pay their rent in Buffalo face a treacherous new year.

While Americans struggle with inflation, the statewide eviction moratorium expires Jan. 15. The Emergency Rental Assistance Program has been, at least temporarily, shut down. Buffalo faces a daunting task: How can we protect residents from the persistent threat of Covid and ensure that low-income and working-class people don’t lose their homes?

Buffalo’s housing crisis existed before the global health crisis. A growing number of struggling families are confronting the reality that they can neither find housing nor afford their monthly rent.

Our 2020 Partnership for the Public Good report, “Evicted in Buffalo,” outlines the degree of housing insecurity in our city: More than half of Buffalo’s households (50.6%) cannot afford rent, with nearly a quarter of the city’s households paying more than 50% of their income on housing. The vast number of court-ordered evictions (87.5%) are due to nonpayment of rent and disproportionately impact women, Black and brown communities.

A bill called Good Cause (S3082/A5573), the budget-neutral legislation gaining traction in cities and municipalities across New York State, would protect struggling tenants from unaffordable rent increases at a moment when they can least afford them. Good Cause gives tenants the right to a lease renewal in most cases and curbs unlimited rent hikes.

These are crucial protections that can help keep Buffalo’s renters safely housed and prevent an avalanche of evictions, homelessness and new Covid infections. Tenants would have the right to defend themselves against retaliatory evictions and advocate for repairs landlords failed to make.

The legislation would also help prevent the potential exploitation of struggling tenants through exorbitant rent hikes by subjecting rent increases – particularly those above 5% – to rigorous judicial scrutiny in eviction court, ensuring that landlords demonstrate “good cause” when seeking to evict tenants.

Buffalo needs Good Cause protections more than ever, as residents wait for more of the economy to recover. Despite the urgent need and the growing political support across New York, state legislators in the Buffalo area and Gov. Kathy Hochul remain silent on the bill. This is unacceptable. Tenants deserve better.

Nearly 80% of New Yorkers support Good Cause legislation. It is time for our lawmakers to pass Good Cause and keep Buffalo’s hard-working residents safely housed this winter season.

Tanvier Peart is the director of policy advancement at the Partnership for the Public Good.

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