The other side of a crisis: Thousands of New York families are agreeing to “self-evictions” from their homes

Last July at the Mexican restaurant worker, Antonia Ríos, 55 years old resident of Jackson Heights, he received a notice from his landlord, which made it very clear that if he wanted to renew the contract for the apartment where he had lived for eight years, he had to add to the rent $475 more, starting in October.

To Colombian Claudia González, 45 years old, who owes about $8,500 in rent for an apartment in the Bronx, “due to the ravages of the pandemic,” decided not to fight the case in court, despite hoping for help from the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP)

The case of the Salvadoran Martha Carrillo, 68, is different. Her partner died last year. The ‘landlord’ has already sent him twice the lease renewal contract for his house in Harlem, at market prices. The decision was not to extend the controlled income benefits, which the deceased enjoyed for 30 years, because they just weren’t married.

Antonio, Claudia and Martha They have something in common: For not knowing their rights and not having lawyers, nor “papers”, they decided not to fight their cases. And they negotiated the eviction directly with the lawyers of the owners of the buildings where they lived.

This group of women was filled with fear, given the pressure from the landlords. And they considered it useless to start a legal dispute, because the lawyers who did not even materialize the demand, insisted that they had “everything to lose”.

In conclusion, very quickly, they they signed their “self-eviction” sentence.

Several tenant advocacy coalitions are calling on the NYC Court Administration to stay cases where the defendant does not have an attorney. (Photo: F. Martinez)

“Don’t go the first time”

Given these three examples, which show one of the faces of the wave of evictions, dozens of tenant defense organizations are promoting dissemination actions so that people at riskknow how to fight against the pressures and threats of their landlords.

For this reason, this Thursday, during a visit to the Housing Court building in Lower Manhattan, spokespersons for organizations such as Met Council On Housing, Catholic Migration Services y Goddard Riverside demanded the Office of Court Administration (OCA) to promote compliance with the Ley ‘Right to Council‘ (RTC) of the City of New York, which establishes that tenants in dispute cannot be denied the right to counsel.

According to this coalition, since the beginning of this year, at least 12,000 tenants have been denied the right to a legal representative to defend them.

“We are calling on New Yorkers to know their rights. Many do not know that due to current legal initiatives, they have the right to free representation. So when they come to court they only talk to the landlord’s lawyer. And they end up entangled and self-evicted,” he said. Stephen Espinal de Catholic Migration Services.

As of press time, The newspaper did not get reactions by the OCA on these requests.

lawyers are few

The issue is complicated because on many occasions the tenants, in the midst of pressure, do not even speak English. And they also ignore what to do when they go to a subpoena from the judge.

Also, they don’t know what to do either, when they receive the notifications. And that moment, they could sign or access their vacancy very easily.

“A letter arrives and they often do not understand the documentation. Education about this is important. The court takes into account how you received it. These are details that help disqualify your case or allow it to move forward. The important thing is that the communities Lose your fear and know what to do as soon as a note from the ‘landlord’ reaches you ”highlighted the organizer of tenants.

According to the RTC, the Office of Civil Justice (OCJ) provides tenants facing eviction in Housing Court administrative proceedings with access to free legal representation and counseling provided by non-profit legal service organizations.

All of these services, although they face serious budget problems, are free, regardless of immigration status.

Although all income-eligible tenants are entitled to a free legal expert, there are a great shortage of defenders.

In this sense, Raun Rasmussenexecutive director of Legal Services NYC, one of the tenant advocate providers, who contract with the city, assured the City&State publication that generally the Housing Court is on track to file 92,000 cases this yearwith a total of about 500 lawyers available.

“Thousands of tenants will not be able to get a lawyer,” he said.

Precisely in the face of this ‘drought’ of legal support, tenant advocates are proposing more education so that residents of rental units have the tools to, at least, postpone their cases and do not allow the ‘landlord’ so easily take advantage of your vulnerability.

They are also demanding that the New York City Administration of Courts “immediately” issue an administrative order that only cases in which tenants have obtained an assignment from a lawyer can move forward. They require that all disputes, without a legal professional on behalf of the lesseethey should be discontinued.

Yes there is a wave of ‘self-evictions’

According to the activists, the drama of high rents in the Big Apple is displacing thousands of working-class families from their neighborhoods.

The astronomical and historic rise in real estate rent in the Big Apple, which is recorded in contract renewals registered in Manhattan, has implied increases of even 50% and 60% in many cases. This trend is having a ripple effect in other counties previously considered cheaper to live in.

In Queens, home to thousands of Latin American families, in the past three months records point to an increase in rents of 14.56%.

At this time, although the official court numbers do not describe a ‘tsunami’ of lawsuits to evict tenants from rental residential units, the truth is that the vast majority of people decide not to fight because they don’t know what going to a judge can meanregardless of the fact that in some situations, they could keep their homes or demand improvements to the property.

The current official eviction figures will never describe the number of people who were forced to leave their apartments. outside of a court case. Nor are those who leave of their own free will before a judicial eviction is carried out.

The greatest number of litigations in the Courts are registered in Upper Manhattan and The Bronx, but there is a presumption that it is Queens the county where more people have left their homesbefore addressing any judicial process.

“Unfortunately due to a lack of education, most New Yorkers who are victims of the affordable housing drama, they are evicting themselves. Thousands and thousands of people have left the city because they could not pay. Others end up moving with other families. And nine people end up living in an apartment, sharing a bathroom. That is a trend that is growing this year”, stressed Espinal.

Evit Viruet, Doddard Riverside organizer: “This is a distressing time for many families.” (Photo: F. Martinez)

help is slow

To avoid the worst, both the federal government and the City and State of New York created frameworks of protections to avoid an avalanche of real estate vacancies during the months of the pandemic lockdowns.

Until now, $2.4 billion in reliefhave reached the pockets of landlords in New York.

However, the organizations that mediate for financial aid, ensure that the “waiting list” for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) it is still very long. And right now, many homeowners They are not willing to wait any longer.

Given this other dynamic, Evy Viruettenant organizer Doddard Riversidebased in Manhattan, describes that the situation is distressing for hundreds of families.

“To approve and materialize the aid it can take months. And many ‘landlords’ don’t understand that. Some are subjected to letters, notifications, harassment. And that is the moment in which many times they prefer to leave. It is generally a situation very sad for thousands of families who are losing their homes”Viruet remarked.

The other side of this housing tragedy, referred to by the spokespersons for the organizations, is that although some tenants managed to cover their 2021 moratorium, with the resources of the relief plans, they will meet in 2022 with an inflationary situation and disproportionate increases in incomewhich puts them again at risk of being left on the street.

The Dominican, Teresa Guerra, 50 years olds assures that he has been able to “ride” the crisis so far, but he doubts that by 2023 he will be able to continue with his apartment in Inwood, in Upper Manhattan. She is willing to put up a fight though.

“Most of my neighbors have had to leave. They made some repairs to the building, improved some common areas. And that is why they want to increase the rent in a ridiculous way, by more than 10%. They always win. But in my case, at least, I’m going to give him the fight. They want only rich people to live in New York.” the islander finished off.

For his part, a real estate owner’s attorney in Upper Manhattan, who preferred to keep his name confidential, stressed that his client is owed in back rent more than $170,000.

“Tenants are clinging to still existing protections, just to delay eviction, but support programs are not flowing properly, nor will they solve the housing crisis. They have been a failure. Why not They do not give a fundamental answer to the families, nor to the owners”he concluded.

He added that it is normal that in the city, in an unfair way, the owners are always described as “heartless demons.”

“Legal” evictions on the rise:

According to data released by the Legal Aid Society, across the city evictions executed have increased each month since the moratorium expired:

  • 104 evictions in January, 145 in February, 213 in March, 234 in April, 302 in May and 315 in June.
  • 2,027 legal evictions through June of this year, a number that could be insignificant given a rental market that exceeds 2 million units.
  • 54,200 eviction applications in the city, so far this year, but everything indicates that there is the perfect scenario for that number to increase in the months to come.
  • 180,000 eviction applications in all of 2019the year before the public health crisis caused by COVID-19.

Are you being evicted?

  • Since April 2020, the New York City Mayor’s Office created the Help Line for Tenants to inform them of their rights and connect them with resources related to housing, including free legal services and help with rent payments.
    The Tenant Helpline is staffed by housing specialists from the Tenant Support Unit (TSU), who have answered nearly 90,000 inquiries for help since the line launched and have sent more than 20,000 referrals to legal service providers .
    To reach the Tenant Help Line, call 311 and ask for the “Tenant Help Line”.

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