Gov. Kathy Hochul is considering letting a pandemic-spurred hold on evictions lapse after it expires on Jan. 15, sources in the state legislature told THE CITY.
A pause on evictions has been in place by executive order since the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, then becoming law in June 2020. Hochul extended the stay on evictions during her first days as governor in early September.
In recent weeks, she and her advisors have been pushing state lawmakers to let the law lapse next week — making the argument that businesses and schools have reopened and people are returning to work, four people familiar with the discussions told THE CITY.
Hochul’s inclination to let the moratorium end is shared by landlords who have complained about the measures since they were first enacted in March 2020.
Now even some tenant advocates are dropping a push to extend it, instead putting their weight behind pressing lawmakers to pour more money into rent relief and passing legislation to enshrine “good cause” eviction protections.
“We’re putting our energy on preparing for an inevitable sunset of the moratorium,” said Cea Weaver, campaign coordinator with the statewide tenant movement Housing Justice for All.
Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, a group representing mostly small and mid-sized landlords, told THE CITY the state should be focused solely on funding debts owed by tenants — because extending the moratorium is “not going to do anything to help those folks who can’t pay their rent.”
The plan to let the law sunset comes as state lawmakers gather in Albany, and virtually, for the start of the 2022 legislative session Wednesday. Hochul is poised to deliver her first State of the State address laying out her priorities — as New York contends with record-high COVID cases and a surge in hospitalizations.
In a conversation with THE CITY ahead of the new legislative session, Sen. Zellnor Myrie (D-Brooklyn), a member of the State Senate’s housing committee, said “no person should be put out on the street at such a perilous time,” but deferred to the committee’s chair, Sen. Brian Kavanagh (D-Manhattan), on the fate of the moratorium.
It’s unclear if the Democratic-dominated State Senate or Assembly plan to let the measure expire. Kavanagh did not return calls for comment from THE CITY and a spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie did not immediately comment.
Avi Small, a spokesperson for Hochul, said in a statement to THE CITY:
“Governor Hochul has taken aggressive action to address the housing crisis, including paying or obligating $2.1 billion in rent relief funding, making $100 million in rent supplements available, signing an increase in rental voucher amounts into law, and investing $25 million for free legal services for tenants.”
He added: “This moratorium was passed during an extraordinary session in close collaboration with the legislature, and with session starting tomorrow the Governor looks forward to working with Legislators on housing and other related issues. Amidst the COVID crisis, tenant issues will be at the forefront of the work the Governor and Legislature will do together this year.”
Funds Running Out
The possible lapse comes as New York is slated to receive just a fraction of the $1 billion in additional aid the Hochul administration requested from the federal government for the state’s $2.7 billion emergency relief rental program (ERAP), a pandemic-spurred fund aiding debt-burdened renters and landlords.
Last week, the U.S. Department of the Treasury alerted state officials that New York will receive only $27.2 million in additional funding for the program, according to correspondence included in court records first reported by Law360 Tuesday afternoon.
Hochul inherited the beleaguered program, which stopped accepting most applications in mid-November as it neared exhaustion, from her predecessor, ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned in disgrace in August.
The Legal Aid Society filed a class action lawsuit in state Supreme Court last month seeking to force the state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) to reopen the application process.
Allowing more people to apply through the ERAP portal is key, according to Justin La Mort, supervising attorney at Manhattan-based nonprofit Mobilization for Justice, because even if the moratorium ends, those with pending applications cannot be evicted at least until the state determines if a tenant qualifies for relief.
“The protections of ERAP only apply if you have a pending application, but no one can apply,” La Mort said.
He stressed that the Housing Court system has a huge backlog, which means any new eviction proceeding will be delayed by months.
Still, the potential end of the moratorium spells major trouble for many low-income New Yorkers, said Leah Goodridge, managing attorney for housing policy at Mobilization for Justice, especially those with an active case whose landlords have a judgment to evict.
“Because of the eviction moratorium, they couldn’t do anything about it. And now they can,” she said.
Many of her clients “generally have no other place to go” besides the shelter system, where, the New York Times recently reported, COVID cases are surging.
“The shelters are scary places to be in generally, and at this time especially, it’s even more threatening to people,” Goodridge said.
Weaver, with Housing Justice for All, said it’s important for tenants to understand that, ahead of a potential surge of eviction cases, just because your landlord tells you to leave does not mean you have to go.
“The only person who can evict you is a judge and court marshal,” she said. “It’s important that people not self-evict if their landlord brings a case.”