by LESLIE HANNON
(Rochester NY--) On Thursday October 1st, people gathered in front of Rochester's Hall of Justice in an effort to bring awareness about the impending struggles many local families may face when moratoriums on evictions and utility shutoffs come to an end.
On March 20th, Governor Cuomo enacted a moratorium on residential evictions that was set to expire October 1st. On Monday, Cuomo announced an extension of the “Tenant Safe Harbor Act” (signed June 30th), through the end of the year.
But members of the Rochester City-Wide Tenant Union and the Rochester Mutual Aid Network who hosted Thursday's rally say the Governor's actions don't go far enough.
The Tenant Safe Harbor Act (TSHA) prevents landlords from being able to evict tenants who have suffered financial hardships due to COVID-19 between the dates of March 7th 2020 and whenever a region is fully reopened (without orders to restrict business, public accommodation or non-essential gatherings).
Under the TSHA, a tenant can use "financial hardship during COVID-19" as a defense against eviction, but the definition of “hardship” is not clear. Instead of clearly defining what a hardship is, the act advises courts to investigate things like tenant’s income history before and during the pandemic, eligibility for and receipt of SNAP, SSI, disability payments, and unemployment payments among other factors. And while evictions are prevented under the act, monetary judgments are not.
Housing advocates say that the TSHA may prevent people from ending up on the streets for now, but it does not provide any relief from the debt many families are accruing as they struggle to get through a global pandemic. Advocates warn this will inevitably result in large numbers of evictions as soon as all protections are removed.
As an alternative to the TSHA, the City-Wide Tenant Union and Rochester Mutual Aid Network said Thursday they support NYS Senator Myrie and Assemblymember Reyes’s proposal for a Emergency Housing and Displacement Prevention Act (EHDPA).
Under the proposed EHDPA, not only would tenants be safe from eviction, they would also be protected from monetary judgments until 1 year after the pandemic is officially declared over.
In addition to this, the Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act of 2020 introduced by Senator Salazar and Assembly Member Niou would forgive rent debts, mortgage debt for small homeowners (homeowners with 6 or fewer units where the property is their primary residence), through 90 days past the end of the pandemic. The proposed legislation would also prohibit landlords from reporting non-payment of rent to credit reporting agencies, while also creating assistance programs for tenants and landlords experiencing hardship.
In an effort to protect those who are already homeless, or still find themselves homeless during the pandemic, advocates Thursday said they also support the Housing Access Voucher Program introduced by Senator Kavanagh and Assemblymember Cymbrowitz. The proposal calls for a state-funded, state-wide rent support program for homeless and housing insecure NY residents. By design, the state funding would open eligibility to all income qualified households regardless of immigration status.
In addition to supporting these legislative proposals, the groups hosting Thursday's event want to see action taken to protect the tens of thousands of RG&E customers who will be facing shutoff when that moratorium ends on October 4th. Specifically, they want to see a 2 year moratorium on utility shut offs, and cancellation of charges incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.
LESLIE HANNON is a photographer and volunteer reporter for Reclaiming the Narrative. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.