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Another Voice: Legislature can head off eviction and foreclosure crises

Another Voice: Legislature can head off eviction and foreclosure crises

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As we enter the holiday season, thousands of families in Western New York – and millions more across the state – are unsure of their ability to pay next month’s rent or mortgage.

The situation is dire: New research from UCLA and four other universities found that lifting state moratoriums and allowing eviction proceedings to continue caused as many as 433,700 excess cases of Covid-19 and 10,700 additional deaths in the United States between March and September this year.

As a housing attorney in Buffalo, I talk to tenants who are behind on rent every week. But my clients are not only tenants; homeowners, too, are behind on their mortgages. Yet, until now, no relief has come. How long can our governor and the state Legislature continue to kick the can of mass evictions and foreclosures down the road?

Nearly 60% of Buffalo’s residents rent their homes; most of the rest of us are paying mortgages, indebted to the banks. Decades of profit-seeking from the real estate industry, combined with predatory lending and a lack of basic tenants’ rights, have made our city deeply unaffordable.

The housing crisis that existed before the pandemic is now a ticking time bomb. Eight months into this global health crisis, thousands of Western New Yorkers have permanently lost jobs and income. Renters and homeowners alike are eight months behind on housing costs.

Without action from the state Legislature, unpaid bills will come due, evictions will skyrocket, and we will face another foreclosure crisis in our city and state.

Just like in 2008, predatory real estate investors will be ready to gobble up our neighborhoods and profit from our pain.

But there is another way. After counting all the absentee votes, the Democrats have attained a historic supermajority in the Senate. Working with the Assembly, our legislators could provide eviction and foreclosure relief, instantly.

There are three pending bills in the Legislature: one to clear back rents and provide support to mom and pop landlords, one to prevent evictions and foreclosures, and one to give New Yorkers the aid they need to exit homeless shelters.

But these sensible solutions to the housing crisis need more support in the Senate and Assembly – including from our representatives in Western New York – to have a chance. These bills have not made it to the floor, and the Legislature has not met since June.

We have paths to take that can lessen the housing crisis, but we must lift our voices together and use them to let our elected officials know that now is the time for bold action. Buffalo’s renters and homeowners cannot wait.

Adam Bojak is a tenants’ rights attorney in Western New York and former candidate for Assembly.

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