According to a recent National Low Income Housing Coalition report, from 30 to 40 million renters could be at risk of eviction, including a million in New York.

Sadef Ali Kully

The push in New York is for federal action as well as stronger state legislation to protect tenants.

Housing and tenant advocates gathered outside Brooklyn Housing Court Tuesday to protest against the looming eviction crisis confronting many renters in New York and across the nation as the federal and state moratoria come to end. 

The Brooklyn protest was led by major housing advocacy groups such as Make the Road NY, Housing Justice for All, Churches United For Fair Housing, Crown Heights Tenants Union and New York Communities for Change, among many others. It was part of a national event in which organizers across 15 states protested against the lack of Senate action on legislation to bring relief to tenants across the country. 

According to a recent National Low Income Housing Coalition report, from 30 to 40 million renters could be at risk of eviction, including a million in New York. Locally, an analysis by the Met Council on Housing, also released on Tuesday, found that one out of every four tenants in the city could face evictions. 

A review of data collected on the Met Council on Housing tenants’ rights hotline and a survey of their membership showed that among low-income tenant households, 87 percent have had trouble paying rent due to the pandemic; 86 percent of those same households were already rent burdened before the pandemic crisis.  

In New York, the day of reckoning has been pushed back by executive and court policy. 

The New York State Office of Court Administration issued guidance for housing court proceedings on August 13, but Gov. Cuomo said he would extend the eviction moratorium until September 5, and in a court memorandum, Chief Administrative Judge of the Courts Lawrence Marks further extended it until October 1 for cases filed on or after March 17. The moratorium applies to cases for both residential and commercial properties. 

However, Marks also said the courts could not continue taking on the responsibility of the legislation. Advocates agree that a more stable and comprehensive policy is needed.

“Legally, right now that’s 100,000 cases on the docket, right? Not even being heard valid or not valid which means you’re safe. The minute that gets lifted, everyone comes to housing court and they can potentially be evicted,” said Rob Solano, executive director for Churches United For Fair Housing. “So we’re trying to prevent it.”

Solano indicated that Cuomo has broad powers to forestall a crisis. “Cuomo can do that with a strike of a pen at any time,” he said. “He has the power to just say your rent’s been canceled.”

Additionally, Solano said the current moratorium forces households facing eviction to prove they have been financially impacted due to the pandemic, which can be difficult for those undocumented households who may have difficult time providing pay stubs or navigating language barriers.

The focus of the nationwide effort Tuesday was the U.S. Senate, where the latest version of a potential next round of stimulus relief doesn’t include help for tenants.

The protest was also part of an effort for housing and tenant advocacy groups to push three bills which could possibly bring relief for tenants and landlords in Albany. 

The Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act of 2020, sponsored by Brooklyn state Sen. Julia Salazar and co-sponsored by Queens state Sen. Michael Gianaris, would provide relief from housing payments for renters and small homeowners during the COVID-19 public state emergency and protect those tenants and homeowners until 90 days after the state of emergency ends. The bill would also authorize financial assistance for residential co-ops, affordable-housing providers or landlords who can demonstrate COVID-19 related hardship. The bill was recently introduced to the state Assembly by Manhattan Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou and observers expect it to reach the state Senate floor in the upcoming legislative session.

Another bill, S8667, introduced by Brooklyn Sen. Zellnor Myrie, would extend the eviction and foreclosure moratorium until the “end of the state of emergency in the state of New York plus one full year.” That bill is in the Senate Rules Committee. 

The third bill, S7628A was introduced by Brooklyn and Manhattan Sen. Brian Kavanagh. It would provide housing vouchers for eligible individuals and families who are homeless, or who face an imminent loss of housing. The Housing Trust Fund Corporation would oversee the program, and state and local public housing agencies would administer it. The program would begin October 1, 2020. This bill is in the Senate Housing, Construction and Community Development Committee, which is also chaired by Sen. Kavanagh. 

“The legislators who we talked to are extremely, extremely supportive of extending an eviction moratorium. I think that like nobody wants to see their constituents evicted and we’re hopeful that the bill will get some traction in Albany,” said Cea Weaver, Campaign Coordinator for Housing Justice for All. “One of these bills also prevents foreclosures. We actually think that the bills are good because they push the cost of the moratorium up the ladder to the highest level, all the way to the lenders who have plenty of money. And then when it comes to like corporate landlords, they have more than enough money to go a few months without having to evict somebody.”

Real-estate industry leaders are wary of the proposed legislation and say the economic impact of the proposed bills could have a ripple effect on how the city and state move forward during an unprecedented economic and health crisis. 

“The issues our City and State face require immediate action to protect New Yorkers’ health and livelihoods, not short-term ideas that ignore non-payment issues and place the burden wholly on the private sector,” the Real Estate Board of New York said in a statement to City Limits. “We will continue to advocate for the federal government to step up to provide city and state aid, expand unemployment insurance benefits and create a viable rental voucher program that will keep the most vulnerable New Yorkers safe in their homes.”

Frank Ricci, the director of government affairs for the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents many thousands of city property owners, says his RSA members are seeing tenants leaving their buildings without their security deposits and are trying to mediate with commercial tenants.

“The vacancies are something I’ve never seen in my 35 years and it’s not, and there’s not even people looking to replace them,” he says. “So just like tenants, there are a lot of owners now who are approaching the end of their economic rope in terms of being able to meet expenses and none of these bills, except possibly in some cases the housing access voucher program, would actually be helpful.”  

Ricci says even the eviction moratorium can be problematic for landlords because not all tenants are facing the same financial impact from the pandemic. “There is a certain segment of tenants who don’t pay their rent even without a pandemic, unless they have a catalyst, some kind of push to do it. So unfortunately, filing a case in housing court, getting to the court to [force the tenant] to actually pay or at least be able to avail themselves of a city program, like the one shot deal or some other program to pay their rent–that’s the only way some owners will collect the money and the owner is still out his legal fees,” says Ricci. 

Ricci said the economic strains on landlords is one of the reasons the RSA is also supportive of the recent call to pause all tax lien sales. The pause was proposed by state and city elected officials.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced a temporary freeze on evictions effective until December 31, 2020 in order to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. According to the agency order,  individual renters should expect to earn less than $99,000 this year or if they file jointly, less than $198,000. The order can also apply for those individuals who did report an income in 2019 or did not receive a stimulus check the year. Qualifying tenants must file sworn declarations that show an eviction would likely leave them homeless or “force the individual to move into and live in close quarters in a new congregate or shared living setting because the individual has no other available housing options.