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With Eviction Moratorium's Impending End, Housing Advocates And Attorneys Prepare Defenses

VESTAL, NY (WSKG)—New York’s eviction moratorium is set to expire at the end of August. With the looming deadline, housing advocates and attorneys in the Southern Tier are readying as many defenses as possible.

Legal Services of Central New York (LSCNY) is hiring an attorney who will focus on eviction defense in Broome County. The position is funded through a grant from the New York Attorney General’s office.

George Haddad, an attorney in LSCNY’s Binghamton office, said the new attorney will focus solely on helping tenants in the Greater Binghamton area with eviction cases, or summary proceedings.

“Just dealing with housing, summary proceedings that are going to be coming up,” Haddad said, “And of course dealing with the influx and the increased number of summary proceedings we expect after August 31.”

According to Haddad, the attorney will also help tenants who are eligible access rental assistance. As of last week, more than 800 Broome County residents had applied for help with back rent through the New York Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). That is up from 400 in mid-June.

The program, which opened applications last month, grants up to 12 months of rent arrears and missed utility payments, as well as up to three months of prospective rent.

More than 700 applicants from Broome County indicated they needed assistance with prospective rent. Landlords who accept funding from ERAP must agree to not evict tenants on the basis of missed rent.

But Rebecca Rathmell, housing specialist for the Relocation Assistance Program (RAP) in Broome County, argued legal aid and emergency funds, while important to alleviate the effects of the moratoria’s expiration, cannot change the lack of affordable homes.

“We can provide all the rental assistance in the world, if there’s no actual home to put someone in, then there’s no roof to put over someone’s head,” Rathmell said. “That’s what we’re dealing with.”

In her role at RAP, Rathmell helps clients search for new homes, contacting landlords and inspecting apartments for prospective tenants.

The organization also offers financial assistance to clients for up to three months, and up to six months of supportive case management to increase housing retention among clients.

Rathmell said she has seen the number of available houses for clients dwindle. The deteriorating quality of those homes, she added, makes rehousing people in Broome County even more challenging.

According to a 2019 analysis of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), Broome County has the fewest available and affordable homes for extremely low-income residents statewide, tied with Tompkins County at just 18 units per 100 renter households. Extremely low-income households make equal to or less than 30 percent of the area median family income.

HUD estimated that the 2019 area median income in Broome County was $70,460. The maximum income for a family of four with an extremely low-income was $25,750.

There were 8,670 households with extremely low incomes in Broome County in 2019 and only 3,680 homes that were affordable. Just 1,565 of those units were available that year.

With the lack of affordable and quality housing in Broome County, Haddad said rental assistance isn’t necessarily the best option for everyone.

“Some clients may be in a spot where relocation may be their best option, and that’s where the Relocation Assistance Program comes in hand,” he explained. “Other clients need to stay put, so they just need to make up, maybe, for lost rent because of a lost job during coronavirus.”

Haddad said relocation can be better for families in homes with physical or structural problems landlords have neglected to fix.

Rathmell said RAP is scaling up to meet the needs of families facing chronic housing instability—the number of which experts expect to increase after the statewide moratorium expires. The program is currently helping 15 households, Rathmell said, and will add five to 10 new families to its caseload each month.