Lawmakers Consider Bill to Help Tenants
Before Superstorm Sandy, Michelle Griffith had a strong credit rating.
But the devastating storm drove Griffith out of her beach house in New York City. She stayed with friends she knew from church, checked into hotels or slept in her car – punctuated by hospital visits for sickle cell anemia, a disorder of red blood cells.
His debts started to increase. And his credit rating has plummeted.
In 2016 Griffith was got a section 8 voucher because of her illness and thanks to a Sandy program to help low-income families displaced by the storm pay rent. But voucher recipients must find accommodation within two months, otherwise they may lose the benefits, then time is running out.
Yet Griffith was repeatedly refused housing by landlords because his credit rating had plummeted – even for a trailer he was excited about.
âEverything is credit – it starts with credit and ends with credit,â Griffith said. âA lot of times they won’t even let you see a property until you give them your credit score.â
A tenant’s credit rating is a huge hurdle for those looking for housing – especially affordable housing subsidized by federal or state funds. To address this, New Jersey lawmakers are considering a bill, S2516, this would force homeowners to consider other means of judging the creditworthiness of a small number of New Jersey residents seeking subsidized housing.
Instead of a credit score, landlords should look at factors like employment and health history, or any extenuating circumstances that caused a tenant to miss a previous payment – such as, in Griffith’s case, being moved by a storm. The bill has been introduced in every session for the past decade, and this is the first year that lawmakers have voted it out of a Senate committee. He has not moved in the Assembly.
Housing advocates say renters should be judged on more than a number which can include inaccuracies, is difficult to improve and has a disparate impact on blacks and browns, historically barred from receiving traditional loans and pushed into low income. higher risk options which can lead to lower scores.
âIt’s a revolving door,â said Marcia Dash, case manager at Sierra Housein East Orange, which manages transitional housing for women. âThey can’t pay the market rent, but they can’t access affordable housing because of the credit. We are increasingly seeing that they are returning to homelessness. ”
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The New Jersey Apartment Association, which opposes the bill, argues that landlords do not have the means to conduct individualized assessments of all tenants and that it is not appropriate to ask for sensitive information such as as medical history.
âIn New Jersey, the relationship between a tenant and a landlord is a lifelong relationship because we are required to offer renewals to tenants,â said NJAA Executive Director David Brogan. âWhat if a tenant loses their subsidy or if a tenant misses a rent payment in a subsidized building? If a tenant doesn’t pay and is evicted, then the landlord can be without income for three to five months under normal circumstances, or 12 to 14 months on average during the pandemic – and that’s devastating for properties. “
How to increase your score
Affordable housing was created in part for families to have the opportunity to correct or improve their credit scores, housing experts say.
Griffith wants to know how she can bring her score back to the 780 range it was in before Superstorm Sandy, because she feels like she’s tried everything.
She pays her bills on time, has a job she enjoys, has taken financial literacy classes, has paid two different companies to help her increase her score, and is working with a credit union to get a loan in order to improve his credit. When she was homeless, she spent her days in libraries, “looking for everything, leaving no stone unturned,” she said.
âHe doesn’t rebuild himself, he just crashes by so many points,â Griffith said. âMy score has increased by one point every year since 2019. I’ve been working there since 2017, and I’m 570 on Experian, 598 on Equifax, and 599 on TransUnion.â
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Griffith referred to the three major credit bureaus that report based on different factors such as payment history, percentage of available credit a person is using, length of credit history, the types of credit and the number of new accounts for a person. The resulting score predicts the likelihood that a person will repay a loan on time. Credit scores – and even what is considered a good credit score – can vary depending on which agency or lender is running the report.
Senator Shirley Turner, D-Mercer, introduced the bill because she had heard from many of her constituents who were on waiting lists for years for subsidized housing and got into debt because they didn’t could not afford market prices in New Jersey.
The bill would prohibit landlords from taking into account credit scores or other risk assessments for those receiving a state or federal grant, unless tenants have not paid their unsubsidized share of rent two or more times in the past three years.
Instead, the landlord would consider a tenant
- History of employment and wages in relation to the cost of living in the region
- History of rent, mortgage and utility payments
- Health history of the tenant or of the tenant’s family members
- Attempts to stay within a budget
- Personal emergencies that prevented the tenant from respecting their budget
If a landlord were to deny someone’s request, they would be required to provide the tenant with the reasons and submit an annual report to the state attorney general.
The New Jersey Apartment Association said homeowners need tools to understand if a tenant can make payments. While landlords are guaranteed partial payments if the tenant had a Section 8 bond, there is not the same security for properties that receive low-income housing tax credits, which subsidize housing. costs of building a property so that landlords can offer lower rents.
âIf I’m an affordable housing developer and throw away my criteria for anyone to enter this property and I don’t get my payments, my ability to get financing for my next project will be gone,â Brogan said. “And the margins for affordable development are extremely slim.”
Brogan also cited a New Jersey Court of Appeals ruling in 2005, Pasquince vs. Brighton Arms, who concluded that the screening of applicants under Article 8 was not discriminatory because it was used against all applicants, including those without a grant.
Housing advocates highlight historic racist housing policies that contribute to black and Latino consumers on average having lower credit scores. People of color were denied access to low-cost government loans, which led them to higher-risk financial institutions that were more likely to lower a person’s credit rating.
âHomeowners need a standard point of reference, [but] these benchmarks perpetuate systemic racism and are designed to discriminate historically, âsaid Matthew Hersh of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey.
‘I need someone to give us a chance’
After 26-year-old Davayah Jacobs lost her job in Pennsylvania due to the pandemic, she moved to New Jersey to stay with a family member. After the living situation became “toxic” for her and her 6-year-old daughter, they looked for a new place to live.
âThese big LLC companies don’t want to rent to people like me with an OK score of 619,â Jacobs said. “They want 650, 670 or more and I don’t know anyone in their twenties with such a high credit score.”
Jacobs said her credit rating is one of the reasons she and many of the women she stays with are homeless.
âWe’re good people, don’t have a criminal history, but we can’t find housing in New Jersey because landlords want certain types of people,â Jacobs said. âI have a feeling they want us to live in areas that are not safe for our children, because the only places we can enter are basically slums where we live on top of each other. This is not true. I need someone to give us a chance.
She is trying to find permanent accommodation. At the same time, she takes online health administration courses and handles medical complaints over the phone as a patient service representative. The balance between work, school, parenthood, and finding a home is a source of anxiety, Jacobs says.
âI don’t know what our next move will be,â Jacobs said, crying.
For Michelle Griffith, help came from an owner who gave her a chance.
Just before Griffith’s benefits expired, she found a condo in South Jersey. The landlord asked about her credit rating, but she approved the rental application after asking Griffith why she was so low. She pays about $ 700 a month for her share of the rent.
Even though she has been housed for five years, Griffith says being homeless has fundamentally changed her.
âEvery day it’s a roof over my head,â Griffith said. âAnd since you’ve been homeless, there’s never a second that you don’t feel homeless again. You will never have a sense of security in life again. Never.”
Ashley Balcerzak is a reporter at the New Jersey Statehouse. For unlimited access to his work spanning the New Jersey legislature and political power structure, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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