Op-Ed: Calling on Assembly Speaker Coughlin to Help Head off COVID-Related Evictions

Passing bill to protect renters and homeowners who have fallen behind is ‘single most important thing New Jersey Legislature can do’
Bruce Morgan

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin has the chance to be a leader in the fight for economic justice in New Jersey.

The speaker must post a bill designed to prevent a wave of pandemic-related foreclosures and evictions for a final vote immediately so that Gov. Phil Murphy can sign it into law.

Passing this bill is the single most important thing the New Jersey Legislature can do to demonstrate its commitment to addressing the needs of cities like New Brunswick in this unprecedented time of public health emergency and economic peril.

The bill (A-4226/S-2340/A-4034), sponsored by Sen. Troy Singleton, Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake and Assembly Housing Committee Chairman Benjie Wimberly, would establish the nation’s strongest protections for residents dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill protects renters who have fallen behind on their rent and homeowners who have been unable to meet their monthly mortgage payments. It would establish standards that help families who are experiencing hardships to avoid eviction and foreclosure.

‘Large corporate landlords’ want to defeat this bill

Despite the opportunity this bill presents to protect the vulnerable, large corporate landlords are fighting to defeat the bill behind the scenes. They are working to destroy the housing security of low-income people just to make money even as working New Jerseyans face a period of record unemployment.

This is unacceptable. In a crisis, we should come together as a state and as a nation. We must not turn away from supporting one another in an emergency.

Speaker Coughlin has a long history of fighting for the most vulnerable people in Middlesex County and has been a champion on issues like food insecurity.

He must again prioritize the voices of Middlesex County families over those of corporate interests by helping to get this bill across the legislative finish line.

New Brunswick residents are on the front lines of this fight.

Our city is home to a large minority population and a large low-income population. Out of a population of 48,000, the city has a poverty rate of 35.5%, with 17,100 people living in poverty.

Our community, particularly African American families, risks devastation if the foreclosure and eviction prevention bill does not pass.

Governor’s moratorium is not enough

While the governor has announced a temporary moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, families of color need long-term assurance that they will be able to remain in their homes.

If Trenton does nothing, families without work would be forced into a hellish bind: Pay months of back rent or mortgage payments immediately or lose their housing. That would be simply impossible for many.

Thirty-eight percent of New Brunswick residents paid more than 50% of their income to rent even before the crisis hit. Out of 14,893 occupied housing units, New Brunswick has 12,335 that are occupied by renters.

Consider the experience of a person who paid more than half their income to rent before losing their job in the shutdown. If the moratorium is lifted without a fair and equitable repayment plan, such a person and her family would suffer potential homelessness.

If homeowners going through economic strife are not given forbearance opportunities, we will face another foreclosure crisis. Seven in 10 New Brunswick homeowners hold a mortgage. We cannot allow our city to suffer preventable calamity that will only worsen problems of gentrification and rising property values that are already pricing out people of color.

Trenton must act quickly.

Perpetuating cycle of racial injustices

If our leaders do nothing, the long cycle of systemic racist injustices will perpetuate. Black American and other populations of color are harder hit relative to other groups during social and economic crises. This was true in the Great Recession and it is true during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Black Americans are found to test positive for COVID-19 at twice the rate of the general population. Once positive, Black persons have a five times larger hospitalization rate than non-Hispanic white persons. Black Americans are less likely to have comprehensive health insurance and more likely to have worked in service-industry jobs that have been shut down due to emergency measures.

Black Americans face grave risk without homeowner and renter protections. If nothing is done, New Brunswick and towns across New Jersey will experience mass evictions, a surge in homelessness, and worsening public health outcomes as people are forced to relocate.

This bill is the only way millions of New Jerseyans can be secure in their housing for the long term rather than just the short term.

The speaker must act.​