Housing in Brief: Eviction Cases Are Ramping Up in NYC

Also: California’s eviction prevention program is failing tenants.

A Manhattan protest in 2016 (Photo by Informed ImagesCC BY-NC 2.0)

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Eviction Cases Ramping Up in NYC After Moratorium Ends

NYC’s housing court is deluged with new eviction cases six weeks after the state’s moratorium ended, The Real Deal reports. At a city council hearing on evictions, attorneys representing tenants in eviction proceedings said that the city’s Office of Court Administration is scheduling eviction cases without giving tenants time to secure an attorney. While the total number of eviction filings in the first two months of 2022 are still less than half of those filed in the first two months of 2020, the court is dealing with a backlog of 200,000 eviction filings that were held off by the pandemic moratorium. NYC has a “Right To Counsel” program, which provides attorneys to low-income tenants in eviction proceedings, but attorneys at the city council hearing said the court’s newest wave of eviction filings were being processed too quickly to alert tenants to the program and allow them to secure a lawyer.

Relatedly, the news outlet The City found that landlords conducting illegal evictions — changing locks, cutting utilities or removing a tenant’s belongings without filing an eviction case — are rarely prosecuted. Tenants filed 2,642 illegal lockout cases in housing court in 2020 and 2021, but The City’s investigation found the NYPD made just 39 arrests of landlords acting unlawfully in that time period, along with 131 criminal summonses. None of the arrests or summonses ended in a conviction, a sign that NYPD and the city’s criminal courts have elected to ignore the illegal practice.

Many Tenants Are Falling Through the Cracks of California’s Eviction Prevention Program

A report released Tuesday by the San Francisco-based tenants’ rights organization Tenants Together concludes that California’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) has failed to reach many tenants, due to lack of communication with community-based organizations, poor translation and bureaucratic hurdles. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that only 33 percent of California households who were behind on rent as of January had applied for rental assistance. The Tenants Together report surveyed 58 tenant organizations in 27 California counties. Respondents cited difficulty accessing the state’s online application as the biggest hurdle, with long delays before approval cited as the next biggest criticism.

Non-English-speaking tenants found translations were not clear and that the state’s help line did not provide assistance in their language, with one advocate calling the process “significantly flawed and not equal.” Tenants without formal leases, including many undocumented families, faced difficulty verifying living situations, and extremely-low-income families, who were meant to be prioritized for ERAP funding, often had trouble producing all the program’s required documentation. Respondents were also concerned that ERAP funding doesn’t provide help with so-called “shadow debt,” additional loans, often high-interest, that tenants take out to pay rent. The organization recommended extending the state’s eviction protections for COVID-related debt.

California’s eviction moratorium elapsed last year, although tenants with pending ERAP applications are still protected until April. But the San Francisco Public Press found that two-thirds of San Francisco tenants with pending rent relief applications will likely not receive money before those protections end in April. According to the San Francisco Public Press’s Rent Relief tracker, the state has, to date, disbursed $115.7 million of $298.4 million that was requested for rent relief.

Jennifer Bennetch, Occupy PHA Leader, Dies at 36

Some very sad news out of Philadelphia: Jennifer Bennetch, who helped organize 2020’s “Occupy PHA” protest against the Philadelphia Housing Authority, passed away on February 17 from COVID-19, according to an obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Bennetch led a protest encampment called “Camp Teddy,” where unhoused people occupied a site outside a Philadelphia Housing Authority building for four months. Bennetch wanted PHA to change its practice of leaving units vacant and selling them to developers to raise funds. In exchange for dispersing the encampment, the housing authority agreed to transfer 50 vacant homes to a community land trust created by housing activists. Bennetch’s activism began in 2016 following months of harassment by PHA police officers, according to a profile in the New Republic. A GoFundMe started by Bennetch’s 18-year-old son will support Bennetch’s family and its connection to the Bennetch family was confirmed by Billy Penn.

This article is part of Backyard, a newsletter exploring scalable solutions to make housing fairer, more affordable and more environmentally sustainable. Subscribe to our weekly Backyard newsletter.

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Roshan Abraham is Next City's housing correspondent and a former Equitable Cities fellow. He is based in Queens. Follow him on Twitter at @roshantone.

Tags: evictionsrenters rights

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