Residents Impacted by COVID 19 May Receive NYC Emergency Housing Funds
As the world moves through the pandemic, and the endless struggles that COVID-19 has brought on, each state has carefully maneuvered through this emergency with their own agenda.
New York City, which was dubbed the “epicenter of the coronavirus” in the United States earlier this year, is juggling the financial repercussions of the pandemic and residents are particularly struggling to pay for housing. The city’s pre-existing emergency housing fund, One Shot Deal, of $200 million was put into place to assist renters “who can’t meet an expense due to an unexpected situation or event.” COVID-19 sure does fit the bill of an unexpected event, yet there has been pushback over the past few months when renters have sought out help from the program due to coronavirus related financial issues.
The emergency fund provides assistance for issues like homelessness, the potential for eviction or dispossession, utility disconnection, fire disasters, domestic violence, circumstances that affect the health and safety of the individual or family, and more circumstantial scenarios. This program has helped 250,000 New Yorkers secure housing since 2014, particularly aiding tenants facing eviction. Considering evictions are banned in the state of New York through at least August 20th due to the pandemic, residents have been having some difficulty receiving funds from the program as they’re technically not at risk of eviction, but that’s only for a matter of time. In order to qualify for the program, one must be able to prove that they’ll be able to make future rent payments after one-time assistance. Although, with so many residents unexpectedly losing their jobs, there is really no way to prove when they will be able to resume making payments.
Councilman Chaim Deutsch, of Brooklyn advocated, “The One-Shot Deal program should be expanded to allow for payments to those affected by COVID.” He has drafted legislation to adjust the program to help all those in need. Advocates are in support of tweaking the program to extend funds to any residents struggling to pay their rent due to pandemic related unemployment, regardless of when they will resume earning their previous income. While applications are reviewed independently, this fund does not cater to the unemployed, as one always must explain why they aren’t able to pay rent as well as show their ability to meet forthcoming payments.
According to Rent Jungle, as of May 2020, the average rent for an apartment in NYC is $3436, and the average payment for rental arrears is $4,100 per person. With residents continuously filing for unemployment, and the often-extended time it takes to document and receive funds, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with the current amount of NYC residents that are unemployed. Nadine Josephs, of East New York, Brooklyn, for example, waited 8 weeks to receive unemployment. The need for housing assistance is essential right now and requiring proof of income for emergency programs like One Shot Deal makes it impossible for those unemployed to receive relief funds. When speaking of the amount of money it would cost to assist these residents struggling to make their housing payments – approximately $25 million – Deutsch says, “It will ultimately save money because the alternative is rampant homelessness, poverty, and widespread reliance on government assistance.” Utilizing these funds for those financially suffering due to COVID-19 will likely decrease the number of people who apply for government assistance – such as unemployment benefits -which is an attractive factor for the government to take into account. This one-time relief fund will also protect tenants from damaging their credit score, which would happen if they ended up being evicted. With a bad credit score, residents won’t be able to qualify for a new apartment, even if it’s much more affordable, which will ultimately leave many NY citizens without housing. The upfront cost will not only be worth it in the long run, but it will assist so many New Yorkers who are in a complete bind that is out of their control.
The director of the Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP), Jay Martin, is also on board with adjusting the requirements for the One Shot Deal program, as he says, “All options need to be on the table.” If unemployed tenants are forced to leave their homes due to financial woes, they will have to proceed to housing court which involves a great deal of time, effort, and money from both tenants and landlords. Martin explains that helping unemployed residents will also help landlords, as they can “…continue collecting rent rather than spending time and money trying to evict tenants who can’t pay due to COVID-19.”
While evictions are now suspended until late August, landlords are ready to pounce the moment that the moratorium on evictions ends, placing the burden of this once in a lifetime scenario squarely on tenants. Housing rights groups estimate that 50,000-60,000 cases could be filed in NYC’s housing courts in just a matter of days. This estimate is based on the average caseload in a three-month period, without even factoring in the over one million residents who lost their jobs as well as cases that were paused from March, so NYC can certainly expect to see even more eviction cases than expected in the coming days and weeks.
As the director of litigation and housing at Legal Services NYC, Edward Josephson, expresses, “All levels of government have to realize that they cannot let tens of thousands of people end up in homeless shelters. It’s the most dire thing that we have ever seen.” Many independent landlords are suffering financially as well, having lost months of rental income and, in turn, becoming very behind on their own bills. Although, it’s clear that eviction is not the answer here.
While NYC is gradually re-opening after 3 months, and up to 400,000 NYers are potentially returning to work, the city is still very much recovering from the pandemic. “It is clear that the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic are nowhere near an end. There are thousands of tenants and building owners who need help now,” says Martin.
Gov. Cuomo expressed at a news conference, “We have 22 states where the virus is increasing. It’s a dramatic national turnaround. We don’t want the same plight of these other states.” Since Cuomo’s statement, the states reporting an increase has accelerated significantly to 36 as of Sun June 28, 2020. The results thus far have proven that people are actively violating social-distancing rules, causing fear for many residents trying their best to stay safe. Cuomo called out bar owners and patrons in both Manhattan and the Hamptons for being so relaxed when it came to the safety rules surrounding COVID-19. He has openly warned the city that if local officials don’t take this more seriously, the state authorities will be suspending or rolling back reopening plans in those specific areas. If that occurs, that will only increase unemployment further, which will not only be financially destructive for employees just getting back to work, but also for business owners who are just getting their business back on track after months of nonexistent income.
A spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, Isaac McGinn, says, “Helping New Yorkers make ends meet is our top priority in these unprecedented times and we’ve made sweeping changes to ensure New Yorkers can access our services online or by phone, including to apply for one-time rent grants.”
It’s uncertain yet if the updated One Shot Deal program will be approved, but allowing that emergency housing fund to assist those suffering financially from COVID-19 would surely help New Yorkers and would be an actionable step that the NYC government can take today. There is still a long road of financial recovery ahead for NYC, and affordable housing is an issue that long precedes the coronavirus pandemic. As Martin explains when discussing one-time financial relief, “While a good idea, it is not going to be enough to stabilize affordable housing in New York City. Only Congress can provide relief on the scale necessary.”