BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — Housing advocates in Binghamton stood on the porch of one of the city’s vacant properties on Friday to demand more resources for affordable housing.
The ask came a day after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal eviction moratorium, which was supposed to protect tenants until Oct. 3. New York’s eviction moratorium, separate from the federal ban, is set to expire on Tuesday.
As of Friday afternoon, the state legislature had not introduced any bills to extend the eviction moratorium, part of which had been stuck down in a separate decision from the Supreme Court this month.
The Stakeholders of Broome County, formerly known as Binghamton Tenants United, led the protest. Rebecca Rathmell was with the group and said without the eviction moratorium, 7,000 more residents countywide are at risk of losing their homes.
“Neither the city nor the county have done anything to prioritize effective policies or develop affordable rental housing at a scale that will actually impact existing needs,” Rathmell said.
City officials said they will commit $6 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to affordable and senior housing projects. But that is only about a quarter of the $23 million in federal relief funds the city received this year. Binghamton is slated to receive the second half of its ARPA funding, another $23 million, next year.
Demonstrators in Binghamton want half the total money allocated through the ARPA to go to affordable housing.
Advocates also called for a local good cause eviction law to protect renters and prohibit landlords from evicting tenants without reason.
Salka Valerio, a community organizer with Citizen Action, was among the speakers on Friday. She said a good cause eviction law could prevent landlords from terminating leases with families in favor of renting to college students.
“Because now they’re pushing community members out and renting their units out to students, and we have to have a plan for that,” Valerio said. “And I think an immediate plan for that would be to pass good cause eviction laws.”
Valerio said Binghamton is in need of a plan to address the shortage of affordable housing in the area before more households are evicted due to the cancellation of the federal eviction moratorium.
What Protections Remain
George Haddad, an attorney with Legal Services of Central New York in Binghamton, said he expects more eviction cases will go to court now that the national stay on evictions is not in effect.
If more people are evicted and forced to live in congregate or crowded settings, he added, the more people are at risk of coming down with COVID-19 and its Delta variant.
“It’s going to leave tenants with staying on the street, or you’re going to have to go live with family members, and you’re going to be in close quarters with other people who may have COVID,” Haddad said.
The Tenant Safe Harbor Act passed by the state legislature last year will continue to apply. If tenants can provide a judge with sufficient evidence that they suffered financial hardship due to COVID-19 then they may not be evicted for non-payment that occurred during the COVID-19 State of Emergency.
Still, a judge may require tenants to pay landlords some rent owed and does not prevent evictions for other reasons beyond failure to pay rent.
If served with an eviction, tenants will have to attest to that hardship in eviction court before they are protected.
“The old law and the old protections that were in place, they were automatic. Across the board, as long as the tenant submitted this declaration, this form, the form was going to get this protection,” Haddad explained. “Now you’re relying on tenants showing up in court, you’re relying on the tenant having legal representation when they show up to court.”
Having legal representation, Haddad said, is hit or miss. The Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York has a legal clinic in the Binghamton City Court to offer low-income tenants eviction defense, but those programs are limited to specific courts.
Rathmell with the Broome County Stakeholders said the group’s demands go beyond the expiration of the eviction moratorium.
“We developed these in full knowledge that the eviction moratorium would expire and with the intent of trying to protect those most vulnerable at the forefront,” Rathmell said.
In addition to an end to evictions, advocates are working to change the county tax foreclosure process, put land in a community trust, mandate proactive rental inspections and give more power to the city’s code enforcement officers.