It is no secret that New York State — and specifically New York City — has been the region hit hardest by the global COVID-19 pandemic. As a state with a preexisting housing affordability crisis, the impact of COVID-19 only stands to exacerbate and lay bare issues impacting renters and property owners in the ecosystem. For this reason, we felt it critical to convene a group of city and state elected officials and multifamily property owners and operators to discuss the crisis they are confronting and what immediate and long-term collaboration is necessary to ensure the viability of the state’s rental housing system.
The participants in our New York-specific virtual roundtable on May 21 were:
State Senator James Skoufis (Hudson Valley)
State Assemblyman Harvey Epstein (Lower East Side and Midtown Manhattan)
City Council Member Keith Powers (Midtown East and Upper East Side of Manhattan)
Multifamily housing owners Charles Gedinsky and Joyce Holland
New York multifamily property owners understand the gravity of this situation’s impact on their residents’ well-being. Charles Gedinsky of AM/PM Property Management noted that since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, he is “checking in weekly” with residents of his multifamily properties. He added that he has personal relationships with each of his residents, and is aware of “what they do, where they work, and when they are struggling.” He expressed sympathy for those renters falling on hard times as a result of unemployment or reduced hours, particularly noting the challenges faced by construction workers. He has been proactive about arranging payment plans and making other concessions for those impacted, but urged those who are able to pay to do so, and urged elected officials to encourage this behavior. Both Charles and fellow owner Joyce Holland noted the immense financial obligations they have, ranging from mortgage payments to taxes to building upkeep and security.
In response to our owner/operator panelists’ urging of those New Yorkers able to make rent payments to do so, Assemblyman Harvey Epstein noted that “no one makes the decision to not pay rent lightly,” adding that renters are often faced with “a choice between rent and food” or “something else essential.” This sentiment was echoed by Council Member Keith Powers, who noted that “COVID-19 has exposed problems that already existed in New York City and across the state.” Rather than identifying individual policy prescriptions designed to respond to COVID-19-induced economic uncertainty, Powers challenged government and business leaders to “expand programs that were already looking to address … deeper issues around housing as a structural and social justice issue.” Along these lines, Council Member Powers pointed to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order allowing renters to temporarily allocate existing cash security deposits toward past due, or upcoming rent payments as a means of temporary economic relief.
Following Assemblyman Epstein and Council Member Powers’ forward-thinking calls for public policy to address deeper-seeded affordability issues, Joyce Holland noted that oftentimes multifamily owners feel under attack, while emphasizing that to the contrary, she and her industry peers always want to be as helpful and supportive to those in need as possible. By the end of our session, it was made clear that progress toward addressing issues facing New York’s housing ecosystem can only be achieved by bringing all stakeholders to the table. As Assemblyman Epstein said, all stakeholders will not always be thrilled with public policy outcomes, but elected officials must always be willing to have honest conversations.
In a parting note of optimism, Senator James Skoufis concluded our session by emphatically stating that “New Yorkers are resilient and … always come back stronger. It’s a matter of when, not if. Conversations like this are so important as we come together despite being in different places to make sure … [housing] can be stabilized going forward.”
We look forward to continuing to engage members of the public and private sectors to identify solutions to the challenges facing renters and property owners in the multifamily universe.