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McConnell fails tenants, struggling landlords.

EDITORIALS

In New Jersey cities, many thousands of families will soon be homeless, once the governor lifts his moratorium on evictions during the pandemic.

Some are already being evicted, illegally. Yet even a decent landlord is in an impossible situation without federal help. And Mitch McConnell is standing in the way.

The U.S. Senate’s Majority Leader and President Donald Trump have been blocking any more help to states, including as much as $100 billion for tenants and landlords, in rent and utility assistance. Miserly Mitch also pledged not to renew the unemployment benefits that have been helping tens of millions of Americans to make rent. Maybe we should hang his portrait in the foyer of every overcrowded shelter in this state, to welcome all who enter.

The coming deluge of evictions is way too big a problem for New Jersey to solve alone. Even the feds probably couldn’t help all the people who will need it. But Republican leaders, who refuse to vote on aid measures passed by the House, aren’t even trying to get halfway there.

“Congress missed the boat on this,” says David Brogan of the New Jersey Apartment Association, which represents landlords. “It should have been part of the original stimulus. If you knew that people were going to be jobless, you knew that they were going to need rental assistance. It’s disappointing.”

Small landlords who invested all their money into their properties are especially hurting, he says. Gov. Phil Murphy’s $100 million in renter assistance would help about 10,000 to 15,000 families pay rent going forward, for six months to a year, advocates estimate — a great start, but far less than what’s needed.

Our state has about a million tenants. About 40 percent of New Jerseyans have someone in their household who has lost a job, so hundreds of thousands are likely already struggling to pay rent, according to Adam Gordon of Fair Share Housing. Every month, more fall behind.

A bill now working its way through our state Legislature would put tenants on a repayment plan: six months to make up each month’s rent they missed. It’s not ideal, but better than nothing.

The help would be exponentially greater under the federal bill being blocked by McConnell, which would provide the rent owed due to coronavirus-related job losses. We have a few months, at least, until the monster wave of evictions hits. But these cases are already being filed and heard in court.

What matters most now is that everyone else is straining to do all they can, because a tidal wave of homelessness would be catastrophic for those evicted. We all have an interest in preventing that, and it’s going to take a collective sacrifice to stop it. It can’t land entirely on tenants. Landlords and taxpayers are going to have to chip in, too.

Families crammed into shelters get exposed to the virus. Homelessness traumatizes kids. Landlords may blacklist any evicted tenants from future rentals, creating what housing advocate Staci Berger calls “a cycle of displacement and despair.”

Some landlords can’t pay their taxes and could end up in foreclosure, bringing in new investors who don’t necessarily have a stake in the neighborhood. They’ll sit on a property until the market gets hot, leaving the lot vacant.

You lose the fabric of that community, Berger says — the neighbors looking after each other’s kids, or helping to drop off groceries for the elderly. And tenants face the enormous stress of trying to find a place to live in the middle of a pandemic.

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