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EXPLAINER: Will New York eviction relief efforts be enough?

July 15, 2021 Marina Villeneuve, Associated Press
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A federal freeze on most evictions enacted last year is scheduled to expire July 31, after the Biden administration extended the date by a month.

The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, was the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. Many of them lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic and had fallen months behind on their rent.

Landlords successfully challenged the order in court, arguing they also had bills to pay. They pointed out that tenants could access more than $45 billion in federal money set aside to help pay rents and related expenses.

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Advocates for tenants say the distribution of the money has been slow and that more time is needed to distribute it and repay landlords. Without an extension, they feared a spike in evictions and lawsuits seeking to boot out tenants who are behind on their rents.

As of June 7, roughly 3.2 million people in the U.S. said they face eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. The survey measures the social and economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic every two weeks through online responses from a representative sample of U.S. households.

Here’s the situation in New York:

WHAT’S THE STATUS OF EVICTION MORATORIUMS IN THE STATE?

New York is one of several states that enacted a moratorium last year halting eviction proceedings. New York state law protects tenants from evictions — but only if they submit paperwork to the state stating they have a hardship.

That state law expires at the end of August. But tenants who apply for rental assistance will still have protection from eviction, even if they don’t hear back from the state before the law expires.

WHAT’S BEING DONE TO HELP PEOPLE FACING EVICTION?

This year, the state set up a $2 billion fund that will provide up to 12 months of past-due rent and utility bills to eligible households. New Yorkers that spend 30% or more of their monthly income on rent can also receive up to three months of extra rental aid. Renters who earn at or below 80% of area median income qualify.

Payments go directly to landlords, who must agree to waive late fees due on past-due rent and to not increase monthly rent or evict tenants in most scenarios.

New York set up the fund as part of the state budget passed April 7 — but it didn’t release an application for tenants and landlords to fill out until June 1. Ellen Davidson, staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society, said state lawmakers have eased paperwork requirements that slowed rental relief last year.

The state told AP it expects to process cases four to six weeks after a completed application is submitted; it’s received at least 110,000 so far.

New Yorkers needing help paying their energy bill can also apply to the Home Energy Assistance Program before Aug. 31.

HOW ARE THE COURTS HANDLING EVICTION HEARINGS?

Davidson said that landlords in New York have been able to bring about lawsuits over evictions since last summer. But tenants are protected if they submit a hardship declaration form that tells the state they lost income or had more expenses during the pandemic or that moving would harm their health. “If tenants don’t sign it, a landlord can move forward with the case like if there were no laws on the books,” Davidson said.

HOW AFFORDABLE IS HOUSING IN THE STATE’S MAJOR RENTAL MARKETS?

New York City is often viewed as one of the nation’s costliest and most competitive housing markets: From 2007 to 2017 in New York City, the share of affordable rental units declined by 12.1 and 9.7 percentage points for low- and moderate-income households, according to a 2019 report by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. He found 2.8 million of 7.3 million households statewide were spending more than 30% of household income on housing.

The median rental price in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens was $3,195 in May — a 7% increase from April and a 10% drop compared to May 2020, according to a report by real estate company Douglas Elliman.

As of May, the median monthly rent in the New York City metropolitan area was flat over the last year to $2,400, according to a report released June 16 by Realtor.com. Median rents for a two-bedroom apartment averaged $2,725, up 7%. Meanwhile, rent for studios was down 14% to $2,002.

ARE EVICTIONS EXPECTED TO CREATE A SURGE IN HOMELESSNESS?

Davidson said New York’s law is much stronger than the CDC moratorium, and doesn’t expect any increase in homelessness in the state because tenants are protected by the state law.

More than one in five New York households are behind on rent, according to the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and one-fifth of households with children can’t afford to buy enough food to eat.


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