Like a house of cards, temporary tenant protections are rapidly folding for New Yorkers, leaving the most vulnerable exposed to greater landlord abuse and eviction.
As they’ve done throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, tenants and advocacy groups are working to stop mass evictions amid the ongoing housing crisis and keep families off the street.
City Hall Park was jam-packed with New York City tenants and tenant rights groups Wednesday morning in support of a campaign to save neighborhood legal services.
Gathering in the looming shadow of City Hall, a landmark that, for many at the rally, represents the possibilities for the future, demonstrators say they are standing their ground in order to secure theirs. One by one, several elderly residents told a large, encompassing crowd that they believed they would have been evicted if it wasn’t for the Anti-Harassment Tenant Protection Program (AHTP).
This initiative has served over 16,000 families in the past seven years in protections against landlord harassment, discrimination, and displacement. However, at-risk tenants say the City’s Human Resource Administration (HRA) has yet to renew it for the next fiscal year, leaving many susceptible to homelessness.
With several tenants telling stories of how they have lived in the same apartment since the 1980s but were facing pushback from landlords who wanted to sell their buildings, the renters credited legal services from the program for saving them from the streets. In addition to preventing evictions, lawyers also help represent those who face landlord negligence, stopping conditions from deteriorating into unlivable circumstances.
“After years of feeling powerless against our abusive landlord who wasn’t providing heat and hot water nor repairing my apartments, my neighbors and I had no other choice than to reach out for help. With the help of our attorney from Communities Resist we were able to organize a Tenant Association and fight back against the abusive landlord. We finally won. ATHP needs to continue to fund legal services,” Ramona Bash from the 316 Suydam Street Tenant Association said.
Ralliers believe that protections put in place to halt evictions have prompted landlords to take illegal tactics to force tenants out; however, the AHTP helped provide preventative measures and legal representation to combat these approaches. The City invested $9.8 million in funding, and housing justice activists say if cut it would be detrimental to residents who are still trying to survive the housing crisis.
The ATHP program is not the only initiative housing groups are advocating for. As the eviction moratorium nears its end, concerned New Yorkers are feeling the carpet ripped from beneath their feet.
Additionally, it was announced this week that the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) has closed.
During its implementation, the program assisted 80,000 families, spending all of its allocation money, a whopping $2.5 billion. There were still 100,000 applications pending.
There were numerous legislative actions enacted during the economic crisis induced by COVID-19, but while New York City has awakened from many closures, protesters at the rally say those who suffered the brunt of financial and housing insecurities are being put out to pasture.
Advocates are calling for legal protections to ensure that those who still need aid are not forgotten. Win President & CEO Christine Quinn responded to the recent ERAP closure stating that the government must step up with additional funds.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has upended all of our lives and exacerbated some of New York’s most pressing problems, including our housing affordability and homelessness crises. In response, all levels of government stepped up, providing billions of dollars in relief to New Yorkers facing eviction amidst a global pandemic—but now, with funds depleted and the program closed, hundreds of thousands of our neighbors are being left to fend for themselves. New Yorkers deserve better. The federal government must step up with additional funds and Win strongly supports the Hochul Administration and New York Delegation’s request for $996 million in additional funding,” Quinn said, adding, “If our leaders fail to act, more than half a million New Yorkers could face eviction, creating a tsunami of homelessness that will overwhelm our social safety net. We cannot let that happen on our watch.”