New York state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins says Democrats in the upper house will stand firm to include tenant protections in the final state budget, which is 19 days late.

Budget negotiations broke down this week as the governor and legislative leaders discussed how to fund affordable housing programs and incentives.

The Senate included core concepts of Good Cause Eviction legislation in its one-house budget proposal, which requires property owners to give cause for an eviction and caps rent increases on tenants at 5% with exceptions for renovations and higher rises in the consumer price index.

"I have to have tenant protections," Stewart-Cousins said Wednesday while speaking with reporters in the Capitol. "...I guess this is a national problem, quite honestly, but I don't think we can talk about just building without talking about affordability."

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and the Senate leader have grown increasingly adamant about including tenant protections in the budget, but say everything about housing remains on the table. 

Gov. Kathy Hochul did not include Good Cause in her executive budget proposal.

"Within the context of all of this, we have to be very clear that we need real tenant protections, so I think those things have always been the driving force around how we proceed with housing," Stewart-Cousins said.

The Legislature continues to push back against key elements of the Housing Compact Gov. Kathy Hochul proposed in her executive budget, including the state's ability to override local zoning or refusal to construct qualified projects. The governor's housing plan has a goal to construct 800,000 new units over the next decade.

Gov. Hochul on Tuesday said in a statement the housing incentives and programs the Legislature is pushing for won't solve the statewide housing crises alone.

"The governor will make declarative statements about what she wants to declare — I'm not here to do that," the Senate leader said about the governor's comments. "We all are trying."

Stewart-Cousins wants more input from stakeholders on the housing crisis in New York to best shape policy changes — some to be included in the budget with others reserved for later this session. 

Matt Drouin has 176 tenants across 26 properties in Rochester and says the bill can tie landlords' hands in removing a tenant impacting the quality of life of others, including incidents of domestic abuse.

Drouin often receives complaints about a couple who rents one of his units involved in several incidents of domestic violence, but the person who suffers physical harm refuses to file a police report. Other surrounding tenants also will not file a report with law enforcement, fearing retaliation.

As-is, the Good Cause Eviction proposal makes it difficult for landlords to remove a tenant in such instances, Drouin said.

"It takes that decision out of the hands of the housing provider and places it into the hands of a third-party person, which would be a judge, and this person is not connected to the issue," he said, later adding, "It's disingenuous to try to hold a budget bill hostage for tenant protections. What tenants need is they need more income so they can actually have housing choice."

The governor and Legislature continue to clash on housing, including funding for people struggling to pay their mortgages.

They support Hochul's proposal to build 800,000 new homes over the next 10 years, but Assembly Housing Committee chair Linda Rosenthal says the state must invest to maintain the housing it already has.

Lawmakers continue to fight for a Housing Access Voucher Program for homeless New Yorkers. 

"HAVP would help them, would pay a good portion of their rent and it would help people who are on the precipice of eviction," Rosenthal said. "This is a no-brainer, yet, there's no agreement on that as well."

Lawmakers also want $400 million for Emergency Rental Assistance Program funds to help public housing authorities with unpaid rent tied to COVID-19 shutdowns. Many authorities have had to dip into reserves to maintain operations.

"They were at the bottom of the list for ERAP funding, and so we need to help them," Rosenthal said.

Sources say ongoing discussions about extending 421A construction tax breaks are out of budget talks. Hochul proposed extending the deadline for those projects of the now-expired program by four years.

Hochul also wants to alter New York City's cap on the maximum square footage of a building and make it easier to convert office buildings into affordable housing — proposals Rosenthal said lawmakers would consider, but not without vouchers or Good Cause protections.

"We can't just have people being tossed out on their ear for no good reason," Rosenthal said. "We see Black and brown New Yorkers having to leave the city because they cannot afford their rents. In other cases, we see tenants who have paid their rent faithfully every year, every month and yet, the landlord says, 'You know, I really don't want you here.' No reason, just that's what they want. We need to fix that dynamic."

Advocates say the Legislature must balance incentives, mandates and tenant protections to achieve sufficient housing stock that's affordable for a variety of income levels.

"Because you have a lot of competing interest [with housing], it has become a hugely complex issue, which won't be resolved ... at least with this budget, anyway," said Valerie White, senior executive director with the Local Initiatives Support Corporation.

White on Wednesday said subsidies and other incentives for developers to construct affordable housing units are insufficient on their own to solve the statewide housing crisis.

"Without both the carrot and the stick to facilitate equitable housing creation, wealthy communities will gladly turn down money for the right to remain exclusionary, housing creation in lower-income communities will be subject to the politics of the moment, the wealth gap will continue to widen and more communities will become further out of reach for more New Yorkers," she said. "The fact is that we’re not going to and shouldn’t have to create 800,000 homes by relying on cities like New York, Buffalo, Rochester and New Rochelle. Every community – suburban as well as urban – has an obligation to do its part.”

Stewart-Cousins and housing leaders say discussions about housing policy and reform will continue after the state budget is finalized.  

"We know we need to build more housing and we know we need to make sure there's a significant affordability component," she said. "The necessity of housing goes long beyond the budget. Whatever happens we will have to address things that people need."

The 2023-24 state budget is the most policy-laden state spending plan Stewart-Cousins said she has worked on to date.