Assembly Speaker Heastie May be Holding Up Blanket Eviction Moratorium, Despite Senate Consensus

Sources both inside and outside the legislature say Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is pushing back against the Senate Democrats’ proposal for a blanket moratorium.

Morley Musick   ·   December 17, 2020
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has been pursuing a position more in line with the Governors approach on eviction moratoriums, sources said. | The Governor's Press Office

A storm is raging in Albany over how to protect tenants from evictions, as evictions continue to be filed across the state and statutory eviction protections face an end of month expiration date. And as negotiations between the Assembly and Senate Democratic conferences are hashed out behind closed doors, rank-and-file legislators say they’ve been shut out of the process.

Multiple sources familiar with the negotiations from both within and without the legislature say that the Senate has proposed a blanket eviction moratorium, but that Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has pushed for a narrower measure.

Speaker Heastie has been pursuing “a position more in line with the Governor’s approach” which would require tenants to prove financial hardship in order to secure protection against evictions, “rather than a blanket prohibition on evictions,” one source said, asking not to be named.

“If you put the burden on the tenants there’s gonna be thousands and thousands that slip through the cracks because they’re not filling out forms and they’re not equipped to have lawyers representing them at housing court,” the source argued. “And that’s why a blanket moratorium is so much better.”

Raven Brown, the speaker’s deputy press secretary, contested this characterization. “The Assembly and the Senate are currently in the same position in regards to an eviction moratorium. Furthermore, the Speaker, nor the Assembly majority support requiring tenants to demonstrate financial hardship in court,” Brown said in a statement.

Brown declined to specify whether she meant that the chambers were in agreement regarding the necessity of a blanket prohibition of evictions or had reached an agreement around some other kind of eviction moratorium.

Asked about Brown’s statement on financial hardship, the first source speculated that Heastie might have changed his earlier position in response to fallout from an article in The Real Deal, which first reported that negotiations have stalled due to the Assembly’s opposition to a blanket moratorium.

“When you make a statement that says, ‘I am opposed to having tenants prove financial hardship in court,’ it implies there’s a reasonable scenario in which a tenant should have to participate in a court proceeding related to eviction,” said Rebecca Garrard, housing justice campaigns manager at the progressive non-profit Citizen Action, who New York Focus also asked about Brown’s statement.

“Whether that includes a holdover eviction or some other eviction proceeding that impacts rent-regulating tenants as a means to remove tenants from their homes, none of those are acceptable in a pandemic when data has proven that evictions can literally equal death,” Garrard added.

“Heastie’s saying that he has the same position as the Senate but hasn’t said much about what his position actually is,” said Cea Weaver, campaign coordinator of the Housing Justice for All coalition. “Moratoriums mean different things to different people. When we say a blanket moratorium, we mean a blanket moratorium.”

The senate currently has consensus around a blanket eviction moratorium, according to several sources who spoke to New York Focus, including two senators. Mike Murphy, the Senate Democratic conference’s communication director, did not return comment by press time.

“My impression from our conference last week was that there was complete understanding that a blanket eviction moratorium is necessary. If anyone in the conference felt differently, they did not speak up,” one senator said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

One source suggested that Heastie’s connections with real estate may inform his alleged opposition to a blanket ban, pointing to the donations he has accepted from developers and his close ties to real-estate affiliated lobbyist Patrick Jenkins.

Michael Johnson, a representative of the landlord advocacy group Community Housing Improvement Program, said that his group had advised against a blanket moratorium in discussions with Assembly and Senate staffers. 

“We want to push back against a moratorium as a policy goal. We believe the courts have been set up to resolve tenant issues,” Johnson said. He said that landlords might need to file evictions when tenants have behavioral issues that affect their neighbors, for example, or to reclaim apartments in which tenants have died.

Brown did not respond to questions about whether Heastie supports banning other forms of evictions, including holdover evictions, which refer to evictions officially filed for reasons other than non-payment of rent and which accounted for nearly 28,000 evictions filed in New York City alone in 2017.

“Any solution which only seeks to avoid financial hardship requirements in non-payment cases opens the door for millions of tenants across New York to be evicted through holdover (no-fault) proceedings as a means to circumvent crucial protections," Garrard said. “Landlords intentionally disinvest in properties that have lead, mold, sewage and if you’re a tenant and you complain, it can mean you get served with a holdover eviction.”

Multiple Assemblymembers said that there was active debate around an eviction moratorium in the assembly’s conference last week, but that the difference between a partial and blanket moratorium was not discussed.

The short time constraints and Zoom discussions prevented them from addressing the distinction, they said. “We are only given two to three minutes to speak. We never even separated things out or knew to ask about the details. With Zoom, we’re muted immediately after we finish speaking. And then we wait for an answer or they ignore us completely,” one Assemblymember said.

Two Assemblymembers said that they were confident the assembly would vote with the senate. But they had not been able to ascertain what Speaker Heastie had proposed in negotiations or whether he supports a blanket eviction moratorium.

Another source, who said they have been in ongoing conversations with Heastie, expressed frustration at other sources’ claims to New York Focus and to The Real Deal that the assembly is not in full agreement with the Senate. “That’s definitely a lie,” they said, “Heastie said that was a lie. He said that he supports and is waiting on the Senate.”

But they too said they were not certain if Heastie supported a blanket eviction moratorium.

“We don’t know where Carl stands on a full eviction moratorium,” one Assemblymember said. “We don’t know what negotiations are with the senate. We aren’t included in those conversations. That is between Carl, the staff, the governor, and God.”

“Negotiations are ongoing as we speak, and the possibility exists—and as more time goes on, gets more likely—that the Senate is going to compromise in order to bring the Assembly to a deal, under the theory that something is better than nothing,” one source familiar with negotiations said.

They said there was a fifty-fifty chance that the Assembly could be brought around to imposing a moratorium on holdovers, but that it was unlikely that Heastie would agree to a blanket eviction moratorium.

Morley Musick is a contributing editor to New York Focus and the founder of Mouse Magazine.
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