Lawmakers Offer Help to Renters and Businesses Struggling During Pandemic

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Assemblyman Brian Bergen

MORRIS COUNTY — The financial impact of the coronavirus crisis is hitting tenants and landlords alike, but the three bills scheduled for votes in the state Legislature Monday do very little to help renters.

Assemblymen Brian Bergen and Christopher DePhillips are teaming to get renters real relief. They introduced legislation Thursday that would increase the percentage of rent considered property taxes to 30 percent so renters can benefit more from the state’s property tax deduction.

The Senate will vote Monday on allowing delayed payments for mortgages and rent (S2340) and restricting rent increases (S2341) during state of emergencies and suspending rent payments for some small businesses (A2363/A3921).

“Suspending or delaying rent payments would only delay the likely unaffordable payments and provide no relief to renters,” said DePhillips (R-Bergen). “It doesn’t help renters actually solve their problem of not being able to make ends meet now and especially in the future.”

Increasing the percentage of rent considered property taxes is intended to increase renters’ property tax deduction on income taxes and will reduce rent as a percentage of income. The federal Section 8 program defines renters as cost-burdened if rent exceeds 30 percent of income. Roughly, half of New Jersey renters are cost-burdened.

“Showing compassion means helping renters support themselves independently,” continued Bergen (R-Morris). “Delaying payments doesn’t account for a loss of income, it makes future payment twice or three times as large later on.”

Many renters are among the hundreds of thousands of workers who have lost their jobs in the service, hospitality, and retail industries after non-essential businesses were forced to shutter due to Murphy’s executive order mandating nearly all residents to stay home.

Roughly 35 percent of New Jersey residents rent their homes or apartment, according to Census data.

“The government doesn’t spend its own money. It spends taxpayer’s money,” said Bergen. “Providing these tax breaks recognizes that a state exists not with people, but because of the people. The government needs to allow people to support themselves.”

The assemblymen agree that it is tough for the state to provide a grace period for renters, but tax relief should be a consideration for the administration despite hiking taxes by over $3 billion, mostly on the working poor and middle class, since Democrats took the governor’s office while maintaining control of the legislature.

Murphy has set up multiple funds to try to facilitate relief. DePhillips says that approach spurns the ultimate problem: unaffordability is what slows recovery.

“In addition to funds and programs, we absolutely must do more,” said DePhillips. “We must also consider and implement tax breaks. In fact, tax breaks are more likely to be effective.”

The Assembly bill providing financial security for consumers will be considered Monday, though language hasn’t been released for lawmakers or the public to review. Bergen is adamant that government spending puts the cart before the horse despite the lack of transparency.

“It is simple to understand that allowing people to keep their money is more efficient than taking it, adding administrative cost, then giving it back to a limited and lesser extent,” concluded Bergen. “The most beneficial path seems clear. And I hope Democrats will consider the merit of our ideas in the future.”