Murphy unveils program to assist small landlords and their renters

    Gov. Phil Murphy and Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver unveiled a new program to assist small landlords — and their tenants — at the administration’s regular COVID-19 briefing Friday.

    The Small Landlord Emergency Grant Program will use $25 million in federal CARES Act funding to assist landlords who own properties of three to 10 units whose tenants have missed rental payments between April and July.

    The program will be administered by the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency. Grant amounts will be based on the amount of missed rental payments and the number of COVID-affected units serving low- and moderate-income tenants.

    Landlords receiving assistance will be required to pass along the benefits to tenants by forgiving back rent and late fees, the administration emphasized.

    “The majority of low- and moderate-income renters live in buildings with between three and 10 rental units,” Murphy said at the briefing. “We know that, by assisting small landlords, we are helping to secure quality rental housing by protecting their investment in the maintenance of their properties.

    “Many of these smaller buildings aren’t just personal investments for their owners, they’re also investments in neighborhoods and communities.”

    Seasonal and vacation rental properties are not eligible. Among other requirements, properties must have at least one nonvacant rental unit affected and properties that have low- to moderate-income rent levels (or rent based on up to 80% of the median area income). One-third of the program funds are reserved for applicants registered in the Department of Community Affairs’ database as individual or family owners.

    “Through this assistance, we can help directly support COVID-impacted renters by having outstanding back rent forgiven, whether in part or in full, and reducing the risks for evictions once the statewide moratorium expires,” Murphy said.

    Applications will be accepted between 9 a.m. Aug. 19 and 1 p.m. Aug. 26. Landlords can check eligibility on the HMFA’s website.

    “The governor has spoken about prioritizing our Main Streets across the state, and, at the heart of many of our Main Streets are small landlords and their tenants,” Oliver said. “… HMFA’s Small Landlord Emergency Grant Program is about supporting small residential property owners who are often the most vulnerable in an economic crisis because they are frequently locked out of access to capital and federal resources.”

    Health numbers

    Murphy marked a pair of grim milestones, as the state topped 14,000 deaths and 184,000 cases since March.

    Murphy said the state saw 384 new cases, bringing the total to 184,061 since March 4. He also reported 12 deaths, bringing the state’s total to 14,007, plus 1,853 probable deaths.

    The good news was that two crucial rates are declining, with the test positivity rate below the 2.0% mark, at 1.95%, and the rate of transmission — how many new cases come from each case — reaching 1.15. The decline from a recent high of 1.48 was important, Murphy noted, but the ROT still remains above the important 1.0 level.

    Other numbers:

    • In hospitals: 551, including 298 confirmed and 253 probable COVID cases;
    • In ICU: 120;
    • On ventilators: 74.

    Murphy noted the dramatic increase in patients on ventilators: “It’s a reminder that we’re not out of the woods.”

    Contact tracing

    Murphy unveiled a new contact tracing dashboard, noting 1,344 tracers are on the job, including 995 public health workers and 349 members of the Rutgers-trained community corps — adding that 638 people have been in the university’s training program, with those 349 having completed it.

    But Murphy remained unhappy that, while 63% of those called had been reached and nearly half notified of their exposure, he saw other disturbing trends.

    He said that, of people who had tested positive and were reached by tracers, 45% refused to provide any contact information.

    “We need to be perfectly clear: This is about public health — period,” Murphy said, urging people to cooperate. “No one is out on a witch hunt here. We do not condone things like underage drinking or any illegal behavior, but that is not what this is about.”

    Lights out

    Murphy said the state still has 310,800 households without power, from a high of 1.4 million.

    “We continue to push our electric utilities hard,” Murphy said. “So, one level, you can say, well, you’ve got progress of 1.1 million households since Tuesday are back in power and that is progress, but if you’re one of the 310,800 and you don’t have power, that is of no solace to you, and I don’t blame you for being upset and frustrated.”

    And, while he was empathetic with utilities and their workers, the governor was mildly critical of the lingering response time, singling out Jersey Central Power & Light, which has the majority of remaining cases.

    “JCP&L sticks out — they’re good folks — I can’t explain exactly why it feels like each and every time, we talk about their service area, but they’ve got 222,000 of those almost 311,000 are their customers,” he said.

    Other notes

    Murphy noted the promising 40% decrease in state unemployment claims this week — the lowest number since before the pandemic — but remained critical of federal officials, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), for not extending unemployment funding and questioning the need for federal assistance to states. … Murphy pointed out that the Department of Education’s FAQ for school districts came out Friday. He also noted that schools must continue to provide free and reduced-price meals to eligible students. … Murphy said the next briefing is expected at 1 p.m. Monday.

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