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 will expire on Jan. 15, our communities will experience a massive eviction crisis that will continue to destabilize neighborhoods that have been desperately trying to recover following the impacts of the pandemic. This is an absolute outrage, and something must be done to protect the people of our city and our state.
In the Bronx, our neighborhoods have been disproportionately impacted by unemployment and COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths during the pandemic. We continue to see some of the highest rates of rent burden in the city, in addition to the highest number of eviction cases filed since March 2020. Approximately 25% of eviction cases filed statewide are in the Bronx alone. And now, the rising surge of Omicron cases is coinciding with the ending of pandemic benefits programs such as the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP).
Throughout the pandemic, New York State has been a leader nationwide in keeping its people safe in their homes by offering protections from evictions and creating a robust $2.1 billion rent relief program, however that job is not done. Unfortunately, roughly 75% of New Yorkers estimated to be behind on rent were left out of ERAP, and even among those whose applications were approved, many did not receive the full amount owed and/or still haven’t been able to pay since sending their application. For New York City’s 2.5 million Rent Regulated tenants, the Rent Guidelines Board voted to raise rents starting in October 2021, exacerbating the issue of rent debt. To date, there are more than 225,000 eviction cases that have been filed across New York, with 40% of cases in New York City being filed in the Bronx. With current estimates showing more than a million New Yorkers owing rent, this number could now double.
In the Bronx, at the height of the pandemic in June 2020 we saw the nation’s highest rate of unemployment at 24.9%, and the numbers continue to show little sign of bouncing back. The most recent estimates from October 2021 show that unemployment rates have dropped to 11.7%, still the highest in New York City. The same Bronx zip codes that reflected these unemployment rates also had the highest rate of hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 for the first year of the pandemic. We are once again experiencing a concerning rise in COVID-19 cases, while numerous studies demonstrate eviction moratoria allow people to shelter safely and reduce the number of needless deaths of people of color.
We know there is a growing crisis – so now what are we doing to save these people from losing their homes and being forced into congregate shelters?
Action must be taken to develop long-term solutions to pandemic-related rent debt, and ultimately prevent further destabilization of communities throughout the Bronx and across the state. It’s critical that our state leadership take action to protect tenants by:
- Re-opening ERAP with enough funding to meet the remaining rent debt, consisting of at least $2 billion in rent arrears
- Passing statewide Right to Counsel legislation to give access to legal representation for all New Yorkers fighting for eviction cases
- Passing Good Cause Eviction legislation to ensure renters have the right to remain
New Yorkers’ livelihoods are at stake, and we should do everything we can to protect the people of our great city and state as we continue to rebuild throughout this public health crisis. We are proud Bronxites, tired of being last to receive resources, and we are here fighting for our survival.
Rigaud Noel is the Executive Director of New Settlement. Yoselyn Gomez is the Community Action for Safe Apartments Leader for New Settlement.