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New York’s Ban on Evictions Is Expiring. What Happens Now?

For most of the pandemic, New York State has maintained a strict eviction moratorium, a safeguard that many elected officials and housing advocates say has prevented a cascading crisis in a state with an enormous number of struggling renters.

Even as nearly every other state or federal moratorium ended, New York’s protections were extended time and again. Only in New Mexico has a statewide moratorium been in place for as long.

But New York is now approaching a perilous milestone. On Saturday, state officials are set to let the moratorium expire, making way for a long-feared rush of evictions cases that many worry will seed widespread social upheaval and strain New York’s recovery from the pandemic.

Before the pandemic, about one-quarter of the state’s households occupied by renters spent more than half their income on rent and some utilities. In New York City, where many renters live, the problem is even more acute, with one-third of households in that category.

The pandemic only made things worse. The state has received more than 291,000 applications for a pandemic rent relief program since last summer, reflecting the vast number of people behind on rent. That program has nearly run out of money.

“It’s a moment of a lot of uncertainty and precariousness,” said Siya Hegde, policy counsel to the civil action practice at Bronx Defenders, a nonprofit legal services group that has been representing tenants in court.

It is not known how many people may be at risk of evictions after the moratorium ends, but before the pandemic, landlords in New York City filed far more evictions than any other major American city, according to Princeton University’s Eviction Lab. Nearly 140,000 evictions cases were filed in 2019.

Many politicians and housing groups agree that the moratorium was only meant to be a stopgap during an extraordinary crisis. But its end marks a pivotal moment, setting the stage for a fraught political battle.

If an eviction crisis does occur, it would be a formidable challenge for Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, who has made housing a centerpiece of her agenda as she prepares to run for a full term in November.

She has been pressured by many landlord groups, who have lost substantial amounts of rental income during the pandemic and who have felt the moratorium was too heavy handed and easily abused. She has also faced searing criticism from her party’s left wing for allowing the moratorium to expire without supporting sweeping new eviction protections.

Ms. Hochul said this week that she and state lawmakers were discussing next steps. On Thursday, she and the governors of California, New Jersey and Illinois sent a letter to the U.S. Department of the Treasury calling for more rent relief to states with high numbers of renters.

Elected officials and housing advocates worry that the end of the moratorium could reverberate far beyond housing court, leading to an uptick in crime, homelessness, mental health issues, coronavirus outbreaks and more. A moratorium on commercial evictions and foreclosures also ends on Saturday.

Agustina Vélez, 41, is certain that she would have been homeless without the moratorium.

She lost her job cleaning homes in 2020 when the pandemic hit New York. Her husband lost his job as a cook. They struggled to pay the $1,300 monthly rent for their studio apartment in Corona, Queens, where they live with their two sons.

They have both since found some work, but they owe more than $8,000 to their landlord. At one point during the pandemic, he told them he wanted to evict them.

“I’m so afraid that one day I’ll come back and all of our belongings will be outside of our building,” Ms. Vélez said. “We live with that fear.”

Reached by phone, her landlord said he was not immediately available to talk.

New York also has many landlords with only a few properties who without a steady rental income have faced their own financial pressures.

“It’s time to end the eviction moratorium and put an end to tenants skipping the rent because there are no repercussions for not paying,” said Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents some 25,000 landlords of rent-stabilized units in the city.

State and local officials around the country are trying to find ways to keep people in their homes.

On Wednesday, the mayor of Seattle extended an eviction moratorium through mid-February, citing the recent surge in coronavirus cases. Last week, New Mexico’s court system announced a new pilot program to encourage landlords and tenants to tap into rent relief funds and avoid evictions.

It’s not clear what will happen in New York housing courts after the moratorium ends. After the Supreme Court struck down President Biden’s eviction moratorium in August, many parts of the country saw a gradual increase in cases, though levels remained below prepandemic levels, according to a December analysis of eviction filings from the Eviction Lab.

Given the expiration of the federal moratorium, “this is a better place than I think many people would have expected,” said Peter Hepburn, a sociology professor at Rutgers University in Newark and a research fellow at the Eviction Lab.

That may be because many landlords have managed to weather the pandemic, in part because they cut expenses, according to several studies. Government aid programs, like the more than $46 billion rent relief effort, have also helped.

But there are reasons to think it could be worse in New York.

The state has the nation’s highest share of renters, and New York City’s rebound has been sluggish: Its unemployment rate in November was 9 percent, more than double the national rate.

The hope for more federal funds to replenish the rent relief program looks dim, even as applications continue to pour in. State officials estimate that more than 100,000 applicants could be left without aid.

But New York still provides strong tenant protections, including free representation in housing court for New York City tenants. A separate state law passed during the pandemic prevents evictions in some cases for those facing financial hardship. Though the state’s rent relief program is largely tapped out, simply applying for rent relief essentially shields renters from being evicted while the application is pending.

Left-leaning Democrats are pushing the State Legislature to pass a sweeping measure known as “good cause eviction,” which would limit the reasons landlords could use to evict tenants, protecting those who cannot afford “unreasonable” rent increases.

Similar legislation failed last year and in 2019, and Ms. Hochul has not divulged her position.

“If nothing is done, and after the eviction moratorium expires, it is only a matter of months before New York grapples with an unprecedented eviction crisis,” dozens of state and local elected officials wrote in a letter to Ms. Hochul this week.

But many landlords say they need to start collecting rent to pay their own bills, and to maintain their properties.

Sharon Redhead, who owns five buildings in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, and has more than 50 tenants, said she has lost about 30 to 40 percent of the rental income during the pandemic. She used a $50,000 loan to help pay for heating, water, maintenance and other costs.

She has arranged informal payment plans with most of her tenants who owe rent. Several have successfully applied for rent relief. But one tenant, in particular, owes more than $11,400 — a year’s worth of rent — and has refused to apply for aid.

“Housing court is the only option for people who are not cooperating,” she said.

Sofia Cerda Campero contributed reporting.

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Regionales

‘Devastated’: Crowds Throng Funeral Service for 15 Bronx Fire Victims

A line of black hearses began pulling up outside the doors of the Islamic Cultural Center in the Bronx just after 10 a.m. on Sunday. They maneuvered past throngs of distraught mourners who had flocked to the mosque to say a final goodbye to friends, children, parents and cousins killed in a fire that took the lives of 17 members of a close-knit Gambian community.

Indoors, women consoled each other in a second-floor prayer space as the men gathered downstairs. Outside, two tents were filled with families watching the funeral service on a livestream.

Aminata Sillah, 42, had arrived early. She laid a blue prayer rug on the ground in the frigid morning air, tugging anxiously at her boots.

Ms. Sillah’s aunt, Fatoumata Drammeh, was among those who died on Jan. 9 as acrid smoke filled the apartment building on East 181st Street, suffocating people as they tried to flee the 19-story complex. Ms. Drammeh’s three children also died and were among the 15 people being honored during Sunday’s communal funeral service.

“I’m devastated,” Ms. Sillah said. “It’s been a restless week.”

An imam urged people to clear a path as the coffins, draped in black velvet cloth and held aloft by more than two dozen men, were carried inside the mosque.

“It’s just painful,” Haji Dukuray, 60, said before falling silent as a tiny, child-size coffin was placed near where he sat in the front row on a green prayer rug.

“All this innocence, these young kids,” Mr. Dukuray said. “They have no business being here.”

Yahya Sankara, 33, who lost his sister and two nephews, sighed loudly as his eyes began to tear up.

“My heart is done,” Mr. Sankara said. “I have nothing to say.”

New York’s new mayor, Eric Adams; the state’s attorney general, Letitia James; and Senator Chuck Schumer were among the elected leaders who attended the packed funeral service.

The fire, ignited by a space heater, was the city’s deadliest blaze in decades.

The blaze began just before 11 a.m. on a similarly chilly Sunday morning a week ago. Eight children were among the dead.

As the service started, the imam, Sankung Jeitteh, said he was struggling to control his emotions as he listed the names of families — Dukuray, Drammeh, Jambang, Konteh, Tunkara, Toure — decimated by the blaze.

“When the Lord asks for something, we have no choice but to agree,” he said, adding, “I’m trying to control myself.”

Family members started to quietly sob.

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Regionales

New York Governor Offers Hopeful Sign as Daily Cases Fall by 47%

Credit…Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general, warned on Sunday that the Omicron surge of coronavirus cases had not yet peaked nationally, saying that the next few weeks would be very difficult in many parts of the country as hospitalizations and deaths rise.

In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Dr. Murthy noted the “good news” of the plateaus and drops in known cases in the Northeast, especially in New York City and New Jersey.

But “the challenge is that the entire country is not moving at the same pace,” he said, adding “we shouldn’t expect a national peak in the coming days.”

“The next few weeks will be tough,” he said.

The highly contagious Omicron variant has fueled an explosive surge of known cases, with an average of more than 800,000 new cases a day reported on Saturday, according to a New York Times database.

Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, also expressed concerns that the next several weeks would overwhelm hospitals and staff. “Right now we’re at about 150,000 people in the hospital with Covid,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “That’s more than we’ve ever had. I expect those numbers to get substantially higher.”

In addition, Omicron has brought into sharp relief the longstanding lack of adequate testing supplies, with consumers now depleting pharmacies of costly rapid tests — a boxed set of two tests ranges from $14 to $24 — and creating long lines at testing sites.

The federal government has promised to distribute one billion rapid at-home coronavirus tests to Americans, limiting each household to request four free tests. And new federal rules require private insurers to cover up to eight at-home tests per member a month.

But with the test orders and reimbursement processes hampered by delays, Americans will likely not have tests in hand for weeks, which may be too late in some places where demand is high as infections spread.

“We’ve ordered too few testing kits, so our testing capacity has continued to lag behind each wave,” Tom Bossert, the homeland security adviser to President Trump, said on ABC’s “This Week.” “It’s too little and too late, but noteworthy for the next wave.”

While many people infected with Omicron have had no or mild symptoms, others — especially those who were not vaccinated and those with chronic conditions — suffered more serious illnesses that were already overwhelming hospitals in some states late last year.

Dr. Murthy disagreed with the Supreme Court’s decision last week that rejected President Biden’s vaccine-or-testing mandate for large employers that would have applied to more than 80 million workers.

“Well, the news about the workplace requirement being blocked was very disappointing,” Dr. Murthy said. “It was a setback for public health. Because what these requirements ultimately are helpful for is not just protecting the community at large; but making our workplaces safer for workers as well as for customers.”

Nearly 63 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, but only 38 percent of those have received a booster shot, which some have argued should be the new definition of full vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not changed the definition of full vaccination, but said recently it considers three doses of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna’s vaccines to be “up-to-date,” as well as Johnson & Johnson’s shots with a second dose, preferably of Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech.

Last week, the C.D.C. finally acknowledged that cloth masks do not offer as much protection as a surgical mask or respirator, which some experts have urged the agency to recommend for the general public.

“Please, please get vaccinated,” Dr. Murthy said on ABC, issuing a reminder that the shots still provide good protection against severe illness. “It’s still not too late.”

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Regionales

Homes That Sold for $520,000 or Less

Each week, our survey of recent residential sales in New York City and the surrounding region focuses on homes that sold around a certain price point, allowing you to compare single-family homes, condos and co-ops in different locales.

The “list price” is the asking price when the property came on the market with the most recent broker. The time on the market is measured from the most recent listing to the closing date of the sale.

BROOKLYN | 1 BEDROOM, 1 BATH

This 700-square-foot postwar co-op has hardwood floors, a southern exposure and an open kitchen with a breakfast bar in a non-doorman elevator building with a live-in superintendent.

20 weeks on the market

$375,000 list price

1% below list price

Costs $643 a month in maintenance

Listing broker Keller Williams


Connecticut | 2 bedrooms, 3 baths

This 45-year-old, 2,026-square-foot, semidetached condo has an open floor plan, a kitchen with granite counters and island seating and two decks in a complex for those aged 55 and over.

12 weeks on the market

$439,900 list price

Less than 1% above list price

Costs $9,543 a year in taxes; $463 a month in common charges

A 577-square-foot prewar condo with hardwood floors, an eat-in kitchen with granite counters, a bedroom with French doors and a windowed walk-in closet in a non-doorman walk-up building.

31 weeks on the market

$435,000 list price

6% below list price

Costs $5,168 a year in taxes; $405 a month in common charges

Listing broker Triplemint


Long Island | 2 bedrooms, 2½ baths

This 36-year-old, 1,305-square-foot, townhouse-style condo has a living room with a stone fireplace, two walk-in closets and two decks in a complex with a pool and tennis courts.

17 weeks on the market

$499,000 list price

4% above list price

Costs $13,209 a year in taxes; $350 a month in common charges

Listing broker Douglas Elliman


Westchester | 1 bedroom, 1 bath

A 32-year-old, 774-square-foot condo, with hardwood floors, a pass-through kitchen that has granite counters, and a washer and dryer in a high-rise doorman building with a gym, indoor pool and pond.

21 weeks on the market

$389,000 list price

6% below list price

Costs $4,911 a year in taxes; $569 a month in common charges

Listing broker Julia B. Fee Sotheby’s International Realty


A 350-square-foot prewar co-op, with a bath, hardwood floors, two closets and a kitchen with stainless-steel appliances (but no dishwasher), in an elevator building with a doorman and gym.

14 weeks on the market

$325,000 list price

17% below list price

Costs $840 a month in maintenance

Listing broker Keller Williams

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