CANTON — One of the issues being addressed by the St. Lawrence County Fair Housing Task Force is tenant evictions, and Diana Dufresne says she’s been hearing concerns from both sides.
Speaking during this week’s meeting, Ms. Dufresne from the Justice and Law Center in Massena said she receives calls from tenants about issues such as deficiencies and rentals that are uninhabitable.
“And then on the other hand, we have the same basic high number right now with landlords seeking eviction because tenants don’t pay rent. So it’s kind of a large amount of both,” she said.
During the task force’s last meeting in February, members had agreed to draft and provide a memorandum for the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators regarding evictions. The memo had been provided by Ms. Dufresne and P.J. Herne, staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York.
“It was simply an update, a summary of what had occurred so far with the regard to the average filings of four (eviction applications) per day,” Planner II Matilda Larson from the St. Lawrence County Planning Office said.
In the memo, members of the task force shared their concerns about the continued impact of COVID-19 on rentals.
“The Justice and Law Center in Massena, which handles the majority of eviction cases in the county, reports that eviction applications filed by landlords have increased by 75% in the past year. In the past four months, as many as 260 eviction applications have been filed, for an average of four per day,” task force members wrote.
Ms. Dufresne said this week that average number of eviction notices is approximately the same as when the memo was drafted.
In the memo, task force members asked the Legislature to include the “impending evictions crisis as a legislative issue agenda item, and to insist state and federally elected officials develop emergency aid to make landlords and tenants whole.”
They recommended communicating that the late rental payments had created a “cascading effect on deferred housing maintenance by property owners, and that tenants who are behind on rent are facing impending evictions. There is also serious concern that landlords may file for bankruptcy, and will likely become delinquent on payment of real property taxes.”
Since the memo was written, evictions have been on hold until at least Aug. 31. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has issued an executive order placing a moratorium on evictions when the tenant could demonstrate that COVID-19 had adversely affected their ability to pay rent.
“And yet, eviction applications are piling up, at a rate of four per day; landlords have no other recourse when rent is not paid. When the current moratorium ends..., those applications will begin to move through the judicial system, and hundreds of tenant households will be put out of their housing — while the pandemic continues,” they wrote.
Gov. Cuomo has announced a $2.7 billion New York State Emergency Rental Assistance Program that will provide funding for eligible household experiencing financial hardship because of COVID-19 and are at risk of homelessness or housing instability. Applications will be taken starting Tuesday.
Renters will need to provide personal identification for all household members, such as a photo ID, driver’s license, EBT/Benefits Issuance Card, birth certificate or school registration; Social Security number for any household members who have been issued one; proof of rental amount and signed lease, even if the lease has expired; proof of residency and occupancy, such a signed lease, rent receipt, bank statement or utility bill; and documents demonstrating monthly income for the prior month, such as pay stubs, bank account deposit verification or unemployment benefits letter.
During the first 30 days, the program will prioritize the unemployed, those with income at or below 50% of area median income and other vulnerable populations. After the first 30 days, applications will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis, as long as funds remain available. For more information, applicants and landlords can visit otda.ny.gov/erap.
“There is a hierarchy as to who’s going to be considered for assistance first,” Mr. Herne said. “Once a person makes an application, this is supposed to stay any court proceeding. By stay, it means that there’s going to be no action taken by the court until there’s a decision made on the application.”
Once approved, eligible households will receive up to 12 months of past due rent. Those eligible could also receive up to three months of additional rental assistance, if the household spends 30% or more of its gross monthly income on rent. The program also will provide up to 12 months of utility arrears for eligible applicants.