Bill package aims to improve delivery of services to New Yorkers displaced from homes after natural disasters, fires and other emergencies

The Back Home Act would increase accountability, address operational inefficiencies and provide greater transparency and resources.

Housing and tenant advocates joined City Council Members Jennifer Gutiérrez and Shekar Krishnan at a rally outside City Hall in support of the Back Home Act

Housing and tenant advocates joined City Council Members Jennifer Gutiérrez and Shekar Krishnan at a rally outside City Hall in support of the Back Home Act Sahalie Donaldson

New York City Council Members have introduced a package of bills aimed at helping New Yorkers who’ve been displaced from their homes by fires, floods and other emergencies – including by requiring city agencies to provide bolstered support and information to impacted individuals.

Council Member Jennifer Gutiérrez, sponsor of several measures introduced Thursday, described the Back Home Act as a way to improve accountability, address operational inefficiencies, create transparency and resources, and bolster the lack of city support – issues that have long exacerbated displaced tenants’ trauma in wake of life-altering emergencies. 

“FDNY is there to put out fires. They are not equipped to help you get back into your home,” Gutiérrez said at a rally Thursday afternoon. “In a climate where it is a national issue of a housing crisis we cannot afford to allow tenants to be pushed out of their home by an emergency, by a fire and have no plan for them to return.”  A bevy of housing and tenant advocates joined her and Council Member Shekar Krishnan – the sponsor of several other bills included in the package – to emphasize the need for the legislation. 

The package comes amid a surge of fires tied to lithium-ion batteries in e-bikes that have pushed many residents out of their homes. Other emergencies like a partial building collapse in the Bronx last year have also left New Yorkers reeling, scrambling for information and stable housing in wake of great trauma. More than 2,500 homes were vacated by the Department of Buildings and Housing Preservation and Development over the past two years, according to city data. 

Council members and advocates speaking at the rally said that landlords have long capitalized on emergencies as an opportunity to push residents out of their homes by intentionally dragging out repairs to remove rent-stabilized units and convert them into market rate housing. 

“One of the most urgent parts of (the housing) crisis if we are ever to solve it is to keep tenants in their homes, to make sure they aren’t vacated from their home overnight, displaced from their communities – all that happens far too often,” Krishnan said. “It happens because of fires, because of landlord destruction, because of harassment.” 

Int. 750-24 would require the Department of Buildings to report on the length of time it takes to repair vacated units, require building owners to submit additional documentation when seeking to demolish a building, and would expand the Certificate of No Harassment program to safeguard tenants from demolition. Int. 749-24 would create a new office within New York City Emergency Management that would serve as a central support for residents displaced by a fire or other natural disaster by providing resources and coordinating with all responding agencies to help get people back into their homes within “reasonable timeframes.” It would also create a website for displaced residents and building owners where they’d be able to access info about disaster relief and other status updates. 

Int. 751-24 – which has bipartisan support in the form of co-sponsor Joann Ariola, chair of the council’s Fire and Emergency Management Committee – would require the fire department and emergency management to develop and distribute a “fire emergency response guide” for residents displaced by a fire. According to Gutiérrez, no such guide from city agencies currently exists. A resolution included in the package also urges the Legislature to pass legislation to limit landlords’ ability to indefinitely collect rent payments from insurers when displaced tenants are waiting for repairs. 

Bills previously introduced by Krishnan would mandate the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to relocate displaced tenants within their communities when construction is underway, to report on how city funding is used to make repairs in buildings, and to send tenant relocation specialists to help tenants when a vacate order is issued. The latter would also require the department to take legal action against landlords that don’t make repairs within a given timeframe. 

“We have to make sure tenants are able to return home to get their things and come back to their apartments as quickly as possible,” Krishnan said.