Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are at risk of losing their homes this year — let that sink in.
With Governor Kathy Hochul’s confirmation that the eviction moratorium ends on January 15, our communities will experience a massive eviction crisis that will continue to destabilize neighborhoods that have been desperately trying to recover from the effects of the pandemic. This is an absolute disgrace and something must be done to protect the people of our city and our state.
In the Bronx, our neighborhoods have been disproportionately affected by unemployment and hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 during the pandemic. We continue to see some of the highest rent charges in the city, in addition to the highest number of eviction cases filed since March 2020. About 25% of eviction cases filed statewide are in the Bronx alone. And now the rising wave of Omicron cases has coincided with the end of pandemic benefits programs like the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP).
During the pandemic, New York State has been a nationwide leader in protecting its people in their homes by protecting against evictions and creating a robust $2.1 billion rental relief program, but that work isn’t done. Unfortunately, about 75% of New Yorkers estimated to be rent arrears were excluded from ERAP, and even of those whose applications were approved, many did not receive the full amount owed and/or were still unable to pay since submitting their application. For New York City’s 2.5 million rent-regulated tenants, the Rental Guidelines Council voted to raise rents from October 2021, exacerbating the rent debt problem. To date, more than 225,000 eviction cases have been filed throughout New York, with 40% of New York City cases being filed in the Bronx. With current estimates showing that more than a million New Yorkers owe rent, that number could now double.
In the Bronx, at the height of the pandemic in June 2020, we saw the country’s highest unemployment rate at 24.9%, and the numbers still show little sign of recovery. The most recent estimates from October 2021 show that the unemployment rate has fallen to 11.7%, still the highest in New York City. The same Bronx zip codes that reflected these unemployment numbers also had the highest number of hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 during the first year of the pandemic. We are experiencing another worrying rise in COVID-19 cases, as numerous studies show that eviction moratoriums allow people to take shelter safely and reduce the unnecessary deaths of people of color.
We know there is a growing crisis – so what do we do now to prevent these people from losing their homes and being forced to get together?
Action must be taken to develop long-term solutions to pandemic rental debt and ultimately prevent further destabilization of communities in the Bronx and across the state. It is critical that our state leadership takes action to protect tenants by:
- Reopening ERAP with sufficient financing to meet remaining rent debt, consisting of at least $2 billion in rent arrears
- Pass statewide law on the right to counsel to provide access to legal representation for all New Yorkers fighting eviction cases
- Pass charity eviction laws to ensure tenants have the right to stay
The livelihood of New Yorkers is at stake and we must do everything we can to protect the people of our great city and state as we continue to rebuild during this public health crisis. We are proud Bronxites, tired of the last to receive resources, and we are fighting for our very survival here.
Rigaud Noel is the Executive Director of New Settlement. Yoselyn Gomez is the Community Action for Safe Apartments Leader for new settlements.