Legal Aid expects 14,000 in NYC to face eviction as moratorium expires Wednesday

August 5, 2020 Rob Abruzzese
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Less than a week after the $600-per-week federal unemployment protection expired and national COVID-19 related deaths topped 155,000, New York’s court system is expected to begin processing new eviction cases on Wednesday for the first time since March, and the Legal Aid Society is predicting 14,000 households will face eviction immediately.

Specifically, the Legal Aid Society is concerned for the more than 14,000 households that the NYC Department of Social Services identified as having received a warrant of eviction prior to when the pandemic started in March.

“Thousands of families could face likely eviction and homelessness if this crucial moratorium is left to expire,” said Judith Goldiner, attorney-in-charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit at the Legal Aid Society. “New York’s neighboring states have protections in place to secure tenants in their homes during the pandemic. We call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to take immediate action by extending the eviction freeze indefinitely.”

There were 5,393 citywide evictions executed from January through March of 2019, and there were 14,000 active eviction warrants as of March 2020. If families can prove a COVID-19 related financial hardship, they qualify for protection under the Tenant Safe Harbor Act, but Legal Aid predicts most of the 14,000 open warrants do not qualify.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

New York’s protections are set to expire even as neighboring states continue eviction moratoriums. In Connecticut, the moratorium only lasts until Aug. 25, but Massachusetts has eviction protections until Oct. 17, New Jersey’s protections also last into October, Vermont’s eviction proceedings are stayed indefinitely until the end of the state of emergency, and Philadelphia’s Housing Authority extended protections to next March.

Housing Court reopened for in-person proceedings for the first time since March on Monday, July 27. However, it has been relocated from the Civil Court at 141 Livingston St. to the Supreme Court at 320 Jay St., which has more space for social distancing.

Protesters with the Crown Heights Tenant Union and other advocacy groups protested outside of the Supreme Court, located at 320 Jay St., on Tuesday morning.

The first cases to resume are those in which both parties are represented by counsel. The court system is encouraging all pro se litigants to seek attorneys and is providing them with information for all available legal services. It is also only calendaring those cases in Brooklyn after all of the cases with two attorneys are set.

The 14,000 cases that the Legal Aid Society mentioned are only the immediate cases that already had active warrants.

The investment banking firm Stout Risius Ross LLC has predicted that as many as 1.5 million New Yorkers could be in danger of eviction across the state due to the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. They said that eviction moratoriums and the federal CARES Act, specifically the extra $600-per-week unemployment bonus that more than 25 million Americans were receiving, have been the only things that have prevented mass eviction filings from happening already, according to the Century Foundation.

“This data shows us that all the terms people have been using to describe what’s coming — ‘cliff,’ ‘tsunami,’ ‘avalanche’ and so on — might actually be an understatement,” said John Pollock, coordinator of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel. “The only reason we haven’t already seen two million eviction filings is because of all the CARES Act relief that at this point is either going or gone.”

On Monday, tenants from Brooklyn joined the Crown Heights Tenant Union and other coalitions to march in front of the courthouse at 320 Jay St. They demanded an extension to the moratorium on all evictions for at least another year after the end of the COVID-19 state of emergency and the cancellation of rent for all tenants in the state.

The tenant advocates also called for the passage of three bills by the State Legislature — the Cancel Rent bill, sponsored by State Sen. Julia Salazar; the Eviction Moratorium bill, sponsored by State Sen. Zellnor Myrie; and the Housing Access Voucher Program bill, sponsored by State Sen. Brian Kavanagh.

“To extend the eviction moratorium without also cancelling all rental debt accrued during the pandemic will only push this crisis into the future; the state must immediately cancel rent for all tenants for the entire duration of the state of emergency, and for at least 90 days after the state of emergency has ended,” said a statement issued by the Crown Heights Tenant Union. “The state must also immediately act to end homelessness completely; failures from both city- and state-level governments have led to COVID-19 rapidly spreading through shelters, and the percentage of people living in NYC shelters who have died from COVID-19 is far higher than that of the NYC population as a whole.”

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