Rent relief? This U.S. city is looking to cancel rent for tenants hit hard by COVID-19 pandemic

As states begin to lift evacuation moratoria since the coronavirus pandemic began, a city in New York is moving in the opposite direction. The state's moratorium on eviction has not only been extended until August 20, but the city of Ithaca also plans to cancel the unpaid rent.
Ithaca is believed to be the first U.S. city to adopt a decision to apply for this type of rent relief - a historic move in a city where 70% of the population are tenants.
The council asks the New York state government whether its mayor Svante Myrick may be given the authority to cancel the rent due to the economic discomfort caused by COVID-19, which has resulted in job losses and loss of income.
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If the state health agency approved the June 3 ruling, it would give Myrick unprecedented power for a mayor that would allow him to cancel all residential and small business rental payments due between April and June, as well as additional fees.
The resolution also calls on the state to authorize the mayor to oblige landlords to offer lease extensions at the current rate for the duration of the emergency declaration.
According to the State Department of Labor, Ithaca lost 9,200 jobs in the private sector in April, a decrease of 16.2% over the previous year. The unemployment rate in Ithaca is currently approaching 11%.
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The city is asking Governor Andrew Cuomo for approval, which has allowed the suspension and amendment of laws related to the COVID-19 emergency. She worked on the resolution with the newly formed Ithaca Tenants Union.
New York's first eviction ban expires on June 20 next week. Cuomo extended the ban until August 20, but the new extension offers less protection.
"You can still get papers and go to court," said Genevieve Rand, organizer of the Ithaca Tenants Union. "You must have a defense that can prove that COVID-19 was causing you economic difficulties."
Will New York Approve Ithaca's Request?
Ithaca has no plan yet on how to cancel the rental if the state approves its request.
"We would have the opportunity to structure something more fully once we know we can push ahead with the rental cancellation," said Myrick. “Would I cancel the rent tomorrow even if I were granted these powers? I would not. "
If the state approves the powers to cancel the rent for Myrick, the council could meet in July at the earliest to draw up the plan.
"What I would do would be to put together a working group that would allow us to find real rent relief that would likely involve rent cancellation, but only in partnership with relief for small landlords and homeowners," said Myrick.
If Myrick received state authority to cancel the rent, the new city code would cover students who live in dormitories and Ithaca tenants who are not students. However, if tenants are able to pay their rent, they must continue to do so, the resolution says.
Officials are not sure whether their application to grant rental cancellation powers has a chance to survive.
"I think this is a signal of the despair that our townspeople feel, and we cannot take this opportunity, especially because we know that we can then craft our city and set the necessary restrictions." said Deb Mohlenhoff, city councilor of the fifth division. "It's a way to make it clear that we need government support."
What about landlords?
The Ithaca Joint Council also urges the Senate to pass a law that provides financial assistance to small landlords and homeowners by increasing penalties for banks refusing to defer mortgages and encouraging the state to use federally allocated funds to use to provide landlords with vouchers for lost amounts.
The Council will send a letter to Congress members asking for a national fund for rent and mortgage lending to be included in the next COVID-19 aid package.
However, concerns remain about how landlords would be affected by the city's rental cancellation plans. George McGonigal, first of the First Ward, voted against the resolution.
"I don't think I understand why we want to transfer the pain and economic hardship of one group of our citizens to another group of our citizens," said McGonigal at the meeting. "I think of all these little problems that don't make sense here. Who do you define as a small landlord and who is a large landlord?"
COVID-19 help
The federal government's $ 2.2 trillion coronavirus bailout package includes eviction moratoriums for most people living in government-subsidized homes and homes covered by government-backed mortgages.
A second $ 3 trillion coronavirus facilitation law passed in May by the U.S. would provide about $ 175 billion for rent and mortgage payments, but has almost no chance in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate to be passed.
New Jersey lawmakers passed a $ 100 million rent relief law while Governor Tom Wolf in Pennsylvania signed a law that provides for $ 175 million of the corona virus bailout package for rent and mortgage relief.
In Ithaca, Neighborhood Housing Services will launch the COVID-19 rental assistance program on Monday, and officials from Tompkins County expect more than $ 589,000 to be available to provide rental assistance to low to middle income tenants.
Boston is providing $ 8 million in rental assistance. Baltimore provided $ 13 million to support corona viruses to launch a rental assistance program, and Philadelphia provided $ 10 million to help approximately 13,000 people rent their homes.
"We have to do something," said Helen Gym, a member of the Philadelphia Council, whose bill would prevent evictions up to two months after the state emergency law was repealed. "In a city where 18,000 people are displaced annually, we cannot continue to work as usual." It is simply not sustainable. "
Contributors: Associated Press
Follow USA TODAY reporter Kelly Tyko on Twitter @KellyTyko and Ithaca Journal reporter Matt Steecker @OnTheStecord.
This article originally appeared in the US TODAY: Cancel Rent: Ithaca, New York is trying to cancel the rent payment debt

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