NYCHA residents fear evictions amid record arrears

More than 68K households behind on rent

(Jim.henderson - via Wikimedia Commons, iStock/Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal)
(Jim.henderson - via Wikimedia Commons, iStock/Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal)

Thousands of New York City public housing residents fear a wave of evictions as authorities contend with a record amount of unpaid rent and the state’s exhausted relief fund.

NYCHA is owed more than $364 million in rent for 2021, marking the largest amount of unpaid rent in the agency’s history, the agency told the New York Times. More than 68,000 households in the system are behind on rent as of November, approximately 42 percent of all NYCHA residents, up from 35 percent two years ago.

“I’m scared that I’m going to get evicted,” said Eileen Dominick, a resident of NYCHA’s Red Hook Houses development who told the outlet she owes more than $3,000. Dominick also pointed to skyrocketing rents across the city putting her next step out of reach.

After the eviction moratorium expired last month, NYCHA told residents in an email it would “restart nonpayment eviction proceedings.” But the agency is focused on a smaller group of tenants owing money from before the moratorium went into effect. The 2,600 households being targeted owe about $50 million, according to the Times.

“We want to make sure that we are pursuing evictions as a matter of last resort,” said Lisa Bova-Hiatt, NYCHA’s general counsel.

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Assurances from NYCHA stand in the shadow of the agency’s history of filing evictions against a large number of tenants, a pattern that preceded the pandemic.

Data from the New York State Office of Court Administration reported by the Times show the agency annually filed more than 40,000 eviction cases between 2016 and 2018, though fewer than 700 people were ultimately evicted each year.

Making matters worse is a lack of aid flowing through the agency from the state’s $2.1 billion rent relief program, which has run dry.

Those in subsidized housing are last in line to receive payments from the beleaguered program. NYCHA estimates about 28,000 applications were filed to cover about $105 million in relief, all of which are still pending. Residents who applied for relief are shielded from being evicted while applications are pending.

Last month, a judge ordered the state to reopen the rent relief portal to tenant applications, allowing those at risk of eviction to qualify for protection by applying for relief. Gov. Kathy Hochul proposed a budget including $2 billion in pandemic relief. The legislature has until April 1 to sign off on the budget, leaving landlords and renters hanging in the balance.

[NYT] — Holden Walter-Warner