Time’s Up

Posted on June 25, 2020 by Catholic Charities Admin  |  Share

Race to Help Tenants as Eviction Moratorium Expires                             

Photo by Catholic Charities of New York 

This article is originally appears in the Manhattan Times 

By Gregg McQueen

It’s back to the benches. As housing courts begin hearing eviction cases again in New York City, Catholic Charities of New York (CCNY) is racing to help tenants stay in their homes.

Serving clients within the Archdiocese of New York in the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island, the organization runs an Eviction Prevention Program to assist residents who are behind on their rent. “We try to find ways to pay rental arrears owed by tenants,” said Antonio García, Director of CCNY’s Eviction Prevention Program. “We partner with government agencies like HRA and other nonprofits so that we may obtain the emergency assistance funds in order to pay the landlord.”

The program determines eligibility for emergency assistance such as the Family Eviction Prevention Supplement (FEPS), a housing supplement provided by the State of New York for up to five years on a sliding scale. García said his team’s specialists will mediate with landlords and attempt to negotiate a decrease in the amount of back rent owed or achieve a temporary abatement of rent.

“We also provide clients with other auxiliary services that help stabilize their housing situation and financial wellbeing,” García said, including help with budget management. The program serves about 5,000 clients per year. García said he expects the number will spike over the next few months as the statewide pause on evictions comes to an end. Though Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order to officially extend the statewide eviction moratorium from June 20 to August 20, the extension only pertains to those who are eligible to collect unemployment benefits and can prove loss of income due to the pandemic.
For many New Yorkers, the risk of eviction will resume June 20, when landlords can start paper filings for new eviction cases. Cases that were put on hold before due to coronavirus can pick up as well.

“There were thousands of cases that were pending before the pandemic,” García said. “We may see a lot of people at risk of getting evicted.” Undocumented immigrants might be hit particularly hard, as it is often difficult for them to prove loss of income since many work “off the books,” he explained.  “You could prove it if you were able to get an employer to give you a letter saying you were unable to work, but are employers going to risk getting themselves into trouble to do that? It’s not likely,” he said.

García said that many New Yorkers have been able to continue paying their rent only due to federal pandemic assistance that is providing an additional $600 per week to those eligible for unemployment. This boost is expected to expire on July 31.

“The question becomes what will happen after the federal supplementation expires,” he said. “That’s when we surmise that we’ll receive a spike in the among of clients.” Prior to the pandemic, New York City Housing Court handled up to 230,000 filings for eviction cases in a typical year. “About nine percent of those cases actually result in evictions by a marshal,” García said. “Though it’s difficult to predict, there’s a possibility that number of evictions could very well double since the unemployment rate is so high right now.”

The Eviction Prevention Program has eight offices in New York City, which have remained open in limited hours during the pandemic for those who cannot access services remotely. “We’ve modified our procedures so most services are now being provided by phone, email and Zoom,” García said, although the program might expand office hours beginning on July 6.‎

As the eviction moratorium nears its end, García said tenants should be aware of their rights and proactively seek information on programs that can help them. He noted that New Yorkers can access many resources – including referrals to free legal help – by calling 311. García urged, “People should educate themselves as much as possible as to the resources that are out there.”