What to Know
- With the U.S. Supreme Court's strike down of the Biden administration’s temporary federal ban on evictions and New York's own eviction ban set to expire, Gov. Kathy Hochul is calling on state lawmakers to return to Albany for a special session to extend the moratorium
- Lawmakers will hold a special session noon on Wednesday, with the current Emergency Rental Assistance Program set to expire at midnight. Hochul said the goal is to extend the moratorium through mid-January
- People who apply for aid through the program can still be protected from eviction for up to a year, even after the state’s moratorium expires is set to expire Tuesday
With the U.S. Supreme Court's strike down of the Biden administration’s temporary federal ban on evictions and New York's own eviction ban set to expire, Gov. Kathy Hochul is calling on state lawmakers to return to Albany for a special session to extend the moratorium.
State lawmakers will hold the special session at noon on Wednesday, with the current Emergency Rental Assistance Program set to expire at midnight. Hochul said her goal is to have the new measure extend the moratorium through mid-January.
"Under my watch, here in the State of New York we are not going to exacerbate what is already a crisis in terms of the homelessness problem. We are not going to allow people who through no fault of their own lost income, not able to pay, and facing eviction.," Hochul said in a press conference Tuesday evening. "We are not going to abandon our neighbors in need, especially since the state of New York failed in its responsibility to get the money that was allocated by Congress out to the people in need this summer."
In addition to the eviction moratorium, the new governor also said she would have the legislature address two other issues as well: Amending the "open meetings law" to include those with disabilities across the state, and to confirm her appointments to the state's cannabis board.
With many New Yorkers behind on their rent because of pandemic financial hardship, local leaders and renter advocates had been calling on Hochul to extend the ban. The governor said that the pandemic has led to "unimaginable stress and anxiety for tenants and landlords ... many of them lost jobs, lost the ability to pay their bills, and now the debt has been mounting," which is why she said she wants to extend the safety net for those renters and landlords who qualify.
The state’s rental relief program is supposed to dole out more than $2.4 billion to provide up to 12 months of past-due rent directly to landlords on behalf of eligible low- and moderate-income renters. However, it has gotten off to a slow start and fellow Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Monday urged Hochul to help keep renters in their homes until the state can resolve relief payment issues.
“New Yorkers should complete and submit their applications immediately,” Hochul said in an earlier statement. “This is urgent.”
As of last Monday, the rent relief program had distributed only $200 million for 15,500 households. Another $600 million worth of aid has been approved based on applications from tenants, but hasn’t been distributed yet because of trouble identifying and contacting landlords.
On her first day in office last Tuesday, following the resignation of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Hochul said she wanted the cash to go out faster. She said she would hire more staff and assemble a team to identify and remove barriers that have stalled the release of funds. Hochul also said she’ll focus on getting more New Yorkers to apply: The state has received about 170,000 applications so far for a program expected to help up to 200,000 households.
People who apply for aid through the program can still be protected from eviction for up to a year, even after the state’s moratorium is supposed to Tuesday.
“If we allow thousands of households to be evicted while the State works on improving the roll-out of its program, this additional investment will amount to far too little, and come much too late, to prevent a massive increase in poverty and hardship in New York,” said Jason Cone, chief policy officer for the anti-poverty Robin Hood Foundation.
If it is extended, the moratorium may also have to be reworked after another recent Supreme Court decision struck down a state policy allowing tenants to pause eviction proceedings simply by signing a form declaring they had a financial or health hardship due to COVID-19. The court said landlords are entitled to a court hearing where they can challenge the veracity of the tenant’s claim.
Senate Housing Committee Chair Brian Kavanagh, a New York City Democrat, said he’s optimistic the legislature will pass an extension and rework the moratorium to comply with the decision.
Landlords opposed to an extension say fears of a flood of evictions are overstated because of likely bottlenecks in housing courts. New York's largest landlord group, the Rent Stabilization Association, previously threatened to sue lawmakers if the moratorium is extended, saying that they still have to deal with paying mortgages, property taxes, repairs and other bills. The RSA was part of the group that challenged the state’s eviction ban and won in the Supreme Court
The group's president said they are waiting on the language of the bill to see if they will challenge again.
"Governor Hochul understands the severity of the financial devastation that has plagued landlords throughout this pandemic, and while we are hopeful that she will not allow politics to drive the actions of Albany lawmakers, we reiterate our intention to seek all legal remedies if the legislation is contrary to the SCOTUS decision," said Joseph Strasburg, president of the RSA.
In May, the Cuomo administration awarded a $115 million contract to the Virginia-based consulting firm Guidehouse to roll out the rent relief program. The contract outlines performance standards the company must meet or face penalty: its application portal, website software and servers must be functional over 99% of the time each month, for example.
But in the weeks after the state started taking aid applications June 1, dozens of tenants and their advocates told The Associated Press in interviews that the state’s online-only application process was plagued with glitches that erased applications in progress and prevented tenants from uploading documents.
New York City resident Helen Morley is among those still waiting for an answer to an application she submitted in mid June seeking $9,100 to cover five months of rent.
She called the application portal “horrific and horrible,” saying she couldn’t check her application status for two months because she was assigned the wrong application number, and hotline workers were unhelpful for weeks. Her landlord has been been understanding so far, but she’s “scared.”
“The incompetence, I just don’t understand it,” she said.
Guidehouse referred a request for comment to the state.
The Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, which oversees the rental assistance program, hasn’t penalized the company. OTDA spokesperson Justin Mason said the office is “continually evaluating Guidehouse’s performance.”
State Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat on the Assembly’s housing committee, said she believed the company had failed to meet performance metrics. She also faulted the Cuomo administration, saying it waited too late to hire extra workers to help with the deluge of applications.
At least 1.1 million New York households that rent have at least one family member who was economically impacted by the pandemic, according to state estimates.