Today’s webinar explored how COVID-19 has worsened a pre-existing housing crisis in New Jersey, what protections exist for New Jerseyans struggling to pay rent, and what policies we need to prevent post-pandemic evictions and guarantee secure, affordable housing for all.

Eric Seymour, Assistant Professor of Urban Planning and Policy Development at Rutgers’ Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, shared context on the relationship between income loss throughout the pandemic — particularly severe for those employed in the service sector — and inability to make rental payments. Recent research showed that New Jersey tenants indicated the highest rate nationwide of “no confidence” in their ability to pay monthly rent — a result of both COVID-19 and the long-term impact of recession-era foreclosures and prohibitively high housing costs.

Prof. Seymour’s research in other states indicates that New Jersey is at risk of a wave of evictions following the end of the current eviction moratorium, which could be exacerbated by the entry of more large, private equity-backed landlords into the state housing market. See Prof. Seymour’s presentation for further information informed by his research, including a set of graphs and visuals illustrating the relationship between COVID-19, race and class, and recent developments in housing insecurity.

Staci Berger, President and CEO of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, offered comprehensive information on protections and resources currently available to NJ homeowners and renters who are struggling to afford payments. Staci explained that the state-level eviction moratorium, slated to last for 60 days after the pandemic’s end, offers stronger and more reliable protection than the federal CDC moratorium — tenants are not required to take any action or provide any documentation in order to be legally safe from eviction. Any eviction notice filed by a landlord will not be legally executed, and any attempt to remove tenants by force, threat or any other means is illegal.

Staci also shared an update on the COVID Emergency Rental Assistance Program (or CVERAP), a lottery-based financial assistance program for tenants struggling to afford monthly rent payments. The program’s first round was weighted to prioritize tenants with the highest level of need. The second round is now open on a rolling basis, so any renter in need of assistance can apply.

Staci encouraged renters and homeowners in need of financial, legal or other resources to visit, where you can find housing counseling for renters (with language interpretation available), resource guides in English and Spanish, and information on a range of state programs including utility assistance, emergency warming centers and more. You can also text “Housing Help” to 313131. Check Staci’s slides for more resources!

Today’s conversation finished with a few timely policy updates to prevent post-pandemic evictions and win just housing practices in the long term. The People’s Bill (A4034), which has passed the state Assembly and is now in the Senate, would establish that no renter or homeowner should be removed, have their credit damaged or lose their ability to find a home in the future because of the pandemic. Staci also stressed the importance of safeguarding the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and eliminating the diversions proposed this budget season. At the local and county level, Staci encouraged participants to advocate for land banks like that recently launched in Newark, which gives the community agency in development and housing decisions. More than 40 peopled attended this webinar.