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N.Y. Today: A Lifeline for Struggling Renters

Email sent: May 5, 2021 5:52am
What you need to know for Wednesday.

What the Extended Eviction Moratorium Means for New York

By Amanda Rosa

Fellow, Metro

It’s Wednesday.

Weather: A wet and stormy day, with a high in the mid-60s.

Alternate-side parking: In effect until May 13 (Solemnity of the Ascension).

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Justin Lane/EPA, via Shutterstock

New Yorkers at risk of eviction and homelessness were thrown another lifeline this week.

New York State is extending its eviction moratorium through Aug. 31, along with a rent assistance program for tenants. As the state prepares to reopen its economy this month, hundreds of thousands of residents are still struggling to pay rent.

Here’s what you need to know:

The details

State lawmakers passed legislation on Monday to extend eviction moratorium protections that expired May 1. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the order Tuesday.

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The state is also expected to start distributing over $2 billion in rental assistance for tenants that will cover up to a year’s worth of unpaid rent and utilities. The financial aid will also benefit landlords who have gone over a year with little income.

Tenants will be able to apply to the rent relief program later this month.

The context

Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers have teetered on the edge of losing their homes because of the pandemic. The eviction moratorium has been extended a handful of times since last year. On average, renters owe $8,150 in unpaid rent, according to the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, a coalition of housing nonprofits.

Though tenants who can show a financial or health hardship because of the pandemic cannot be evicted, more than 50,000 eviction cases have been filed in New York City Housing Court, the highest number in the country, according to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University.

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Black and Latino neighborhoods in the Bronx and Queens, which have been hit hardest by the virus, have had the highest number of eviction cases.

The reaction

The extended moratorium and additional aid is good news for tenants, but housing advocates have raised concerns for what’s to come after Aug. 31.

“These are the same communities that face greater rates of eviction, even when we’re not in a global pandemic,” said Jennie Stephens-Romero, a supervising attorney with Make the Road New York, a nonprofit.

Ms. Stephens-Romero said both the moratorium and renters’ assistance are “completely necessary” as many tenants begin to return to work. Struggling tenants, many of whom are immigrants, are likely to need help from community organizations to apply for the program.

“It’s not out of the question that we may need another extension after that,” she said.

From The Times

The Mini Crossword: Here is today’s puzzle.

What we’re reading

After a grueling year, New York City needs teachers to sign up for summer school. [Chalkbeat]

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement jail in New Jersey is being sued by its landlords, who say conditions at the facility are dangerous. [Gothamist]

A New Jersey town fired one officer and suspended another over a social media post calling Black Lives Matter protesters “terrorists.” [NJ.com]

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And finally: The artist on Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive

The Times’s Hilarie M. Sheets writes:

How does an unknown artist capture a broad audience? “Location, location, location,” said Otis Houston Jr., applying the real estate adage to a strip of pavement alongside the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive in Harlem where he has delighted and perplexed motorists since 1997 with his performances, banners and assemblages of found objects.

Having developed a cult following along the highway over the years, Mr. Houston is now represented by Gordon Robichaux and will have a star turn in the gallery’s booth at Frieze New York, the blue-chip art fair on view at the Shed starting Thursday.

“It feels great. It’s my time,” said Mr. Houston, 67, who works by day as a custodian in a Midtown office building and returns to his spot on the F.D.R. Drive during off hours.

At Gordon Robichaux last month, where his second solo show was on view, the charismatic performer recounted his unlikely path into the art world. He grew up in Greenville, S.C., where his father, grandfather and uncle worked as plasterers. After moving to Harlem in 1969 as a teenager, he fell in with a bad crowd and was imprisoned twice, for a total of more than seven years in the 1970s and ’80s, on drug charges.

Living in public housing near East 122nd Street after his release, and seeing from his terrace how the traffic on the highway slowed and narrowed to one lane before the Triborough Bridge, he spotted his stage.

There, spray-painting messages on old towels from a gym where he once worked and arranging tableaux of flowers, fruit and toys, he might strike a pose with a book in one hand, a broom in the other and a watermelon rind on his head. “Knowledge. Work,” said Mr. Houston, leaping to his feet to pantomime his stance. And the watermelon? “I’m just showing off, good for the attention,” he said, laughing heartily.

Mr. Houston said the police have given him more than 60 tickets, citing things like “giving gang signals” and littering, all but two of which he has managed to have dismissed in court, one by a judge who the artist said pronounced “Art for art’s sake!” with a gavel bang.

“My mama said, ‘Be yourself,’” Mr. Houston said. “Ain’t nobody beat me being me.”

It’s Wednesday — be yourself.

Metropolitan Diary: Nevins Street

Dear Diary:

When I was growing up in Brooklyn in the years following World War II, my father commuted back and forth to Manhattan by subway every day.

One day when he arrived home, he said he’d had an unusual experience on a crowded train. He had managed to get a seat in downtown Manhattan, but when the train reached Nevins Street in Brooklyn, a young woman had leaned down and asked whether he would be willing to give the seat to her. She was, she said, pregnant.

My father gave her his seat, and as the train pulled into our station — Church Avenue on the I.R.T. — he wished her good luck and remarked that she didn’t look pregnant yet.

“Well,” she said, smiling, “it’s only been about an hour.”

— Jay Neugeboren

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