The following is testimony of Tom Silva, Community Advocacy Coordinator, Foodlink Inc., delivered at the Public Hearing on Rental Housing & Tenant Protections on May 10, 2019 in Rochester.
Who We Are
Thank you for this opportunity to comment on the vital issue of rent and eviction protections for tenants in New York State. My name is Tom Silva, and I am the Community Advocacy Coordinator at Foodlink here in Rochester. Foodlink is a community food resource center and the Feeding America food bank serving Allegany, Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne, Wyoming, and Yates counties. Our mission is to leverage the power of food to end hunger and build healthier communities.
Foodlink is the backbone of the emergency food network in Rochester and the ten surrounding counties. We work with hundreds of partner organizations to distribute over 18 million pounds of food annually in our service area. This network of food pantries, homeless shelters, and hot meal programs work to ensure that everyone who walks through their door is fed and nourished. Our community kitchen produces over 3,500 meals every day for low-income children across the city of Rochester. The Curbside Market, our farmers market on wheels, visits over 80 locations every week and conducted over 40,000 transactions last year for fresh produce. The majority of these market sites are affordable housing communities.
Why We Are Here
Despite all of our resources, partners, and programs – the food insecurity rate in our region remains stubbornly high. Food insecurity refers to USDA’s measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods. Food insecurity often reflects a household’s need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, such as paying rent, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods.
Across our ten county service area, Feeding America estimates that more than 11% of households, or 145,000 people, are food insecure. 92,000 of those households are in Monroe County. Right here in the City of Rochester, the rate jumps to 25%. In the poorest zip codes, such as 14608, that number jumps again to 40%.
At the same time, according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, 52% of renters in the Rochester metro area are rent burdened – meaning they spend over 30% of their income on housing. 30% are severely rent burdened – meaning they spend over 50% of their income on housing. This amounts to over 75,000 individuals in the metro area who are in a state of crisis in their housing. Here in the City of Rochester, 65% of residents are renters. These figures are almost exactly the same as the New York City metropolitan area, but Western New York lacks equivalent tenant protections.
The statistics I’ve shared about food insecurity and housing stability are not isolated – they are the same households, individuals, and families. Charitable and programmatic solutions to food insecurity can only do so much if our community members do not have stable housing to store, prepare, and cook their own meals. If we are serious about ending hunger in our community, we must ensure that people have guaranteed tenant protections and access to affordable housing. Without this, we cannot expect people to meet their nutritional needs on a daily basis. We cannot expect people to manage diet related illness without their kitchens. And we cannot expect children to succeed in school without nutritious food at home.
What We Ask
Because we cannot eliminate hunger without addressing the housing crisis faced by our community, we have come to give public testimony today in support of a series of bills and actions to increase tenant protections and affordability. Foodlink endorses the Universal Rent Control platform of the Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance. We also strongly support the Home Stability Support proposal (A01620) for expanded rent assistance subsidies for families receiving public assistance and the rest of the alliance’s End Homelessness platform. Additionally, we strongly support the proposal(A03611) to remove geographic restrictions from Human Services sanctions reform to allow a reconciliation period for individuals who have missed a single appointment before being barred from receiving public benefits. Currently, this policy only applies to New York City, despite Monroe County having one of the state’s highest sanction rates. These sanctions are punitive to the lowest income and most at risk members of our community. When these payments are revoked, it leads to hunger for families and often leads to the commencement of eviction proceedings, which then increases the client’s reliance on the social services safety net due to their need for emergency food and shelter.
Many households in the state will be best served by expanding the Emergency Tenant Protection Act (A7046) to allow counties to opt into rent stabilization for their municipalities. However, this would only apply to buildings with 6 or more units and regions with a vacancy rate below 5%. As the data shows, even in Western New York, tens of thousands of tenants are rent burdened despite a vacancy rate slightly above the threshold for stabilization. Passing new Good Cause Eviction Legislation (A5030) will not necessarily regulate rents, but rather prevent tenants from being evicted from their home at the whim of a landlord. It would require that landlords always offer tenants a renewal lease and forbid the renewal leases to demand an “unconscionable rent.” Under the proposal, a rent would be considered unconscionable if it represented an increase by more than 1.5 times the rate of inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index and if the landlord could not provide a reason to justify it. It would apply to all rented houses and apartments – except apartments in two- or three-family houses where the owner also resides. Specifically, it would provide renters in our region with an immediate increase in protection and security in their housing.
For these reasons, Foodlink urges you to pass Good Cause Eviction protections throughout New York State, as well as the other bills supported by the Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance. Thank you for your time today.