Hundreds of thousands of financially strapped renters are in danger of losing their homes if New York State lawmakers and the governor let the Covid-19 eviction moratorium expire next week, tenant advocates warn, exacerbating an already dire homelessness crisis.
The moratorium is the most expansive pandemic rent relief program in New York and is set to expire on Jan. 15. The law, first enacted in 2020 and extended twice, prohibits landlords from moving to evict tenants if renters submit paperwork stating they are unable to pay their rent due to hardships caused by the pandemic.
“People are going to be threatened with eviction again and we’re still in the midst of Covid,” said Ellen Davidson, staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society, which filed a class-action lawsuit against New York in December to force the state to open a different rent relief program. “I think we’re going to see a lot of people being evicted.”
Since the start of the pandemic, landlords in New York have filed about 58,800 eviction cases for nonpayment of rent against residential tenants, according to Right to Counsel NYC Coalition, an anti-eviction group. Of those, about 50,900 cases are in New York City.
But the number of households that owe back rent is much greater, which advocates say makes the number of New Yorkers facing eviction significantly higher.
As of October, 591,000 households in New York state are behind on rent, according to the National Equity Atlas, a research group based at the University of Southern California. About 407,800 of those are in New York City. The group estimated that, statewide, 79 percent are from low-income households, or those earning less than $50,000 a year, and 72 percent are households made up of people of color.
Amelia Camacho of Brooklyn and her family are among those facing eviction. Camacho and her husband, Sergio De Jesus, lost their jobs in the spring of 2020 at the start of the pandemic and didn’t have the money to cover their monthly rent of $1,102, according to court records. In September 2020, their landlord petitioned the court to evict the couple and their son, saying the family owed a total of $18,000 in rent.
Camacho and her husband are among the tenants who filed a class-action lawsuit against New York in December to force the state to reopen its Emergency Rental Assistance Program, referred to as ERAP, so the family could seek protection from eviction.
The ERAP program is funded mostly by federal money and is administered by the state. In November, New York stopped accepting most new applications, saying there is not enough money to meet the overwhelming need. A tenant advocacy group said about 300,000 New Yorkers who were behind on rent could not apply for assistance before the state shut it down.
A spokesperson for Gov. Kathy Hochul said the state has paid or is obligated to pay more than $2 billion in rent relief, including about $1.25 billion to landlords. He said New Yorkers unable to pay their rent can seek help at their local department of social services.
The spokesman, Jim Urso, did not respond to a question about whether there are discussions to extend the moratorium eviction again.
“Governor Hochul is committed to addressing housing issues, both immediate and systemic, during the 2022 legislative session and will unveil proposals to help renters and homeowners during her State of the State Address on Wednesday,” Urso said.