Your home is your castle. It is a much-repeated and strongly believed premise no matter the differences in what that “home” looks like or represents. The problem that we face, accentuated by the coronavirus’s punishing impact, is that many homeowners and renters face a grim challenge. Suddenly, and without warning, many New Jerseyans face the prospect of losing their homes because of failure to meet mortgage payments or outright eviction if they are renters.
I won’t allow that to happen. I understand that a safe dwelling, in addition to food, clothing and access to health care, are fundamental rights in a democratic society. We’re not suggesting that we remove the financial commitments made to banks or property owners. What we are striving for are breathing space and moral consideration during a one-of-a-kind crisis.
Someone described me as an action-oriented legislator when I see a need for prompt action that supports the needs of my constituency. I wouldn’t dispute the observation.
Given these threats to homeowners and renters, here are practical bills that offer the breathing space to which I alluded. They include:
Senate Bill S2276. Concerns the prohibition of residential tenant eviction and eviction due to residential foreclosure during certain emergency circumstances. This law would allow the governor to issue an executive order that a lessee, tenant, homeowner, or other person would not face removal from a residential property because of an eviction or foreclosure proceeding. The executive order would remain in effect for no more than two months following the end of a public health emergency or state of crisis. I am proud to say this bill has been signed into law.
Senate Bill No. S2280. Allows the governor, through an executive order, to suspend residential tenant eviction and residential foreclosure. It also prohibits rent increases and permits the application of mortgage forbearance during certain emergency circumstances. Not only must we help our fellow citizens, but we must also ensure that no one takes advantage of them during an emergency.
Senate Bill No. S2325. Prohibits electric, gas, or water public utility service discontinuances to residential customers during certain epidemics. This prohibition would end when the governor rescinds the state of emergency. In addition to protections for evictions, residents need their utilities to maintain a safe and healthy environment.
Senate Bill No. S2340. Authorizes the governor to permit mortgage forbearance and rent payment responsibility reduction for certain emergency-impacted residential property owners and tenants during emergency circumstances. No one can predict the next emergency, and the coronavirus is our present example. This law would provide for “breathing room” should such an emergency occur. It provides for homeowners who have suffered a substantial loss of income to apply for mortgage forbearance — not to exceed three months — that would permit the suspension of mortgage and interest payment obligations. This bill has passed the Senate, and it awaiting further action in the Assembly.
Senate Bill No. S2362. Allocates a supplemental grants-in aid appropriation of $10 million to the Department of Community Affairs to N.J. Shares or S.M.A.R.T. program to fund financial assistance grants to New Jersey residents who suffered financial losses because of the coronavirus pandemic. The bill provides for $5 million that would be appropriated from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund for rent and mortgage assistance, and $5 million that would be appropriated from the Universal Service Fund for utility payment assistance. This legislation has passed the Senate.
We all define “home” in our own way. Its location, appearance and value vary, but what should be unmistaken is that it provides shelter, safety and comfort. If you review these legislative bills carefully, you will note that they are not permanent. Rather, they address, arguably, an unusual response to extraordinary circumstances. The crux of it all is simple: keeping our citizens safe and secure during an emergency. Can New Jerseyans ask anything less of their government?
That’s my take, what’s yours?