Today, December 3 is National Roof Over Your Head Day. The fact that this day follows Thanksgiving is not a coincidence. This awareness day intends to serve as a simple reminder “to appreciate what you have."
It is a fine sentiment, and it suggests the position, with which I agree, that having a roof over your head is not a privilege, but a right.
It isn't an accident that during these particularly trying times of the coronavirus pandemic, the insecurity factor of whether you will have or lose the roof over your head has risen significantly.
That’s why on this day, I want to highlight my efforts to protect our citizens in New Jersey. This motivation led me to introduce Senate Bill No. S2340, also called “The People’s Bill” which will safeguard everyone - renters, homeowners and landlords.
I sponsored this legislation because I am extremely concerned about the homelessness crisis that is inevitable if we don’t act now. Unprecedented jobless rates, combined with expiring federal unemployment assistance means that people will simply not be able to afford to keep the roof over their head for much longer. It is our responsibility to prevent these families – our neighbors, our friends – from losing their homes to foreclosure and evictions.
My bill, of which I am a primary sponsor, "Provides mortgage payment relief, income tax relief, consumer reporting protection, and eviction protection for residential property owners, tenants, and other consumers, during time of coronavirus disease pandemic." This was one of the first pieces of COVID-19 relief legislation that I introduced in early April because I knew that this public health crisis would quickly turn into an economic crisis. Further, after working diligently to enact sweeping foreclosure reforms last year, I did not want to see people lose their homes, or renters be evicted, due to an inability to pay. We must ensure that sufficient safeguards are in place to prevent people from becoming homeless in the midst of this pandemic.
The bill has numerous facets, but I want to focus on several components of the bill worthy of highlighting by offering a thumbnail sketch. They include:
- For homeowners and property owners, if they requested mortgage forbearance, it allows them to repay missed monthly mortgage payments at the end of their loan, instead of owing all of the payments in one large sum at the end of the protection period.
- For renters, it prohibits landlords from initiating eviction action or vacate notices during the public health emergency. It also prohibits landlords sending rental payment information during the public health emergency to credit reporting agencies. Additionally, it requires that landlords provide certain tenants with a repayment schedule to help avoid a wave of evictions. If the renters do not make the agreed repayments, a landlord can then file for eviction.
- For landlords, it allows them to also apply for mortgage forbearance, similar to other homeowners. It also provides for an income tax write-off for those with fewer than 10 units who permanently forgive a portion of rent that was unpaid.
The issue of having a roof over your head, accentuated by this current emergency, affects every single person living in New Jersey. That's why I listened carefully to my constituents and across the board to various advocacy groups and interested parties to draft a realistic and workable approach.
No plan or legislative proposal satisfies everyone. But we are in this together, and that bond, with a bit of grit and patience, will ensure that we protect the families who may have fallen on hard times as well as the owners of these properties.
There is no giveaway in this bill. It is a thoughtful, reasoned approach. I won't allow the pandemic to push our citizens into the street. I will also protect landlords who have made an investment and need protection too. We will get through these difficult times, and all of us should be on surer financial footing, and have a roof over our heads.
That’s my take, what’s yours?