With the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that eviction moratoriums are unconstitutional if landlords’ rights are completely ignored, New York State is scrambling to come up with a way to protect renters that can hold up in the courts.
The need is dire because the state has failed so miserably in handing out the gobs of money it got from the federal government to prevent a Covid-driven eviction crisis. We can hope that was due to the inability of former Gov. Cuomo to run a decent government while facing the end of his political career and possible criminal charges in multiple jurisdictions, and that new Gov. Hochul will be able to get things back on track. To do so, she called a special session of the state Legislature in order to extend New York’s eviction moratorium until Jan. 15.
The lawmakers just have to ensure that the extension passes constitutional muster by giving landlords a chance to challenge tenants’ claims that they can’t pay the rent. It’s only fair that landlords be accorded due process and renters be forced to back up their claims of destitution with evidence if called upon to do so.
The need for a functioning Emergency Rental Assistance Program is clear. New York has more renters per capita than any other state, and more than 800,000 households are behind on paying, according to reports. Without a moratorium, a wave of evictions would be all but inevitable. But the state has $2.7 billion to see people through the crisis. It just has to get the money to them.
So far, only a little more than $200 million, about 7 percent of the total, has been allocated, to about 15,000 households. The program got rolling in June but has suffered from technical problems and a cumbersome application process; and many who would benefit from it don’t know it exists, according to The New York Times.
Aside from getting a constitutionally viable eviction moratorium approved, Hochul must get to work right away on fixing the program. That’s the job of the administration, not lawmakers. She’s already assigned 100 staffers to work on ERAP applications and payments, according to The Times. If it takes even more, great. We have to abide by the Supreme Court’s ruling, but we can’t be heartless and let thousands of renters lose their homes and landlords lose their livelihoods. Fix and extend the moratorium and get the money out to those who need it.