End of New York deportations moratorium has supporters fearful and seeking solutions

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The words used in Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory Thursday are generally reserved for catastrophes of biblical proportions.

“Tsunami.” “Tsunami.” “Crisis.”

“I enjoy the language, expressing the level of concern,” said Eli Berkowitz, Poughkeepsie organizer for Community Voices Heard. “And also, just a reminder, that expulsions are not an act of God.”

At the end of next month, the New York evictions moratorium, which has been a key part of helping thousands of people throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, is expected to end. With around 40 more days to prepare, housing and community advocates are hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.

“The moratorium has been extended (previously),” Berkowitz said. “It is not a done deal that it is not extended into August. There are people in this room who may have the power to change that reality.”

New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks during a panel discussion on affordable housing in the Hudson Valley at the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory on July 22, 2021.

Berkowitz spoke on Thursday at a housing event attended by New York Attorney General Letitia James and about 20 officials and lawyers from Dutchess and Ulster counties.

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More than sympathetic to what is feared to be a looming wave of evictions, those present, including representatives from Hudson Valley Legal Services and Hudson River Housing and Mayor Rob Rolison, have discussed problems with the system as it is and solutions.

Berkowitz put forward the possibility of a housing diversion program, in which if a landlord wishes to take an eviction case to court, he is required to seek mediation.

Eli Berkowitz of Community Voices Heard speaks at a panel discussion on affordable housing in the Hudson Valley hosted by New York Attorney General Letitia James at the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory on July 22, 2021.

However, the biggest issue that most of the people in this room could agree on, when there is no short-term solution, is the availability of affordable housing.

“People are looking to move and transition without becoming homeless, and there is nothing available, either because of the price or because of sheer availability,” said Justin Haines, lawyer for the homeless. Hudson Valley Legal Services, which provides free services to people who can afford a lawyer.

Multifaceted problem

The 2020 Dutchess County Housing Survey, which focuses on large rental complexes, found that the vacancy rate fell to 0.9%, a 40% drop from 2019 and the rate lowest vacancy since 1980.

County executive Marc Molinaro, who attended the start of the meeting, said the county was working on ways to increase housing stock and was also working with municipalities on inclusive zoning, which would force developers to include affordable housing in their projects.

Legal services are preparing for the onslaught of expulsion cases expected after the moratorium is lifted, but are also working on cases that have fallen behind due to the pandemic.

The organization team also raised other issues, including the need for more lawyers trained to handle eviction and housing cases; landlords use tactics to get tenants out, such as calling up code enforcement on their own property or shutting down services; and how city and village courts are sometimes not prepared to deal with eviction cases.

New York Assembly Member Didi Barrett speaks at a panel discussion on affordable housing in the Hudson Valley hosted by New York Attorney General Letitia James at the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory on 22 July 2021.

James said his team was writing a report for the legislature regarding village and city courts and some of the issues they face.

“I am of the opinion, based on my review of all the issues that have been brought to my attention, that something has to happen,” she said.

Advocates have also raised issues with the Emergency Rent Assistance Program, which requires both the tenant and the landlord to request that the tenant receive relief. If a party does not submit a request, which is sometimes the case if they do not communicate, the exemption is not processed.

But the voices absent from the table were those of homeowners, many of whom are struggling to pay off their mortgages because they haven’t received rent for over a year now.

“The challenge, as leaders, is that we have to find the right balance,” said Member of the National Assembly Didi Barrett.

Saba Ali: [email protected]: 845-451-4518


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