By KEVIN LIMITI • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
The extension of the eviction moratorium in New York has drawn criticism from local politicians, who see it as being unfair to landlords, while others say renters and landlords need to take advantage of state assistance in order to mitigate a potential housing crisis.
The eviction moratorium was extended to Jan. 15, 2022, which Gov. Kathy Hochul said was to “alleviate the crisis facing vulnerable New Yorkers who are suffering through no fault of their own.”
Hochul urged renters in need to seek out help from the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
ERAP was meant to assist renters during the coronavirus crisis who are below 80% median income, received unemployment benefits or a reduced income after March 13, 2020, as a result of the pandemic shutdown and have outstanding rent due or are at risk of homelessness or housing insecurity.
However, ERAP has been slow to disperse funds and has been the subject of criticism by republicans representing Otsego County in the Assembly.
“We did a terrible job getting this out to help tenants and landlords,” Assemblyman Brian Miller, R-New Hartford, said during a phone interview about the subject.
Miller said he was “getting calls constantly” from landlords who are struggling.
“They have taxes due, they have mortgages,” Miller said, emphasizing they weren’t big landlords. “These people buy their property for vacation rentals. “
According to the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, there are 155 applications in Otsego County for ERAP as of July, which is less than 1% of the state total of 168,321.
Miller said the relief money was given from federal dollars, “when COVID was in full swing.”
“The rationale for the moratorium was people were out of work,” Miller said. “Now there’s really more jobs. There are jobs everywhere. Why aren’t the renters working to pay their rent when there are jobs available? Employees are crying for people to work.”
Miller maintains not enough was done for the landlords and said the process has to be initiated by the renters. He said he wasn’t opposed to voting for an extension again if it included protections for landlords.
“We have to do a much better job,” Miller said. “There have to be provisions in the law that allows evictions.”
Audrey Benkenstein, housing and community development director at Opportunities for Otsego, said the eviction moratorium was extended in order to give more time for renters and landlords to reach out for assistance.
She said funds are available but have been slow to disperse.
“There have been issues with the rollout (of ERAP),” Benkenstein said. “There’s still a billion dollars of rent relief. We are trying to make people understand that tenants and landlords can apply for funds.”
Benkenstein emphasized that landlords can take advantage of funds from ERAP and that some of her calls have been from landlords.
“Everyone I talked to at the state level has said that is what this funding is for; to help renters and help mitigate effects on landlords,” Benkenstein said. “We’ve been expecting a wave of evictions for awhile now. The wave has been put off, but we expect there will be one unless we are successful in getting every tenant who is eligible made aware of community funds and pandemic relief.”
Shelby Wing, town supervisor for Pittsfield, said she has tenants on her property that haven’t paid in 10 months.
“Our home is getting destroyed by the day,” Wing said, who met with lawyers about the situation with her tenants shortly before talking to AllOtsego. But she said the lawyers couldn’t really do anything about the situation.
“I know a lot of people are in a similar situation,” Wing said. “We’re not a huge company. We’re just a couple.”
“We can’t even do maintenance,” Wing said, who asserted the renters won’t let her onto the property.
“We’re working multiple jobs. … We did file for money from the government, but we can’t evict,” Wing said.