Tag: Covid

Eviction Part 2: The Eviction Moratorium, CARES Act and More

This is part two of a two-part series that takes an in-depth look at evictions and how they contribute to the health of Central New York, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to a financial crisis for many families. Read more to see how both renters and landlords can avoid evictions and create a better region with higher property values, safer housing and more economic opportunities. Click HERE to read the first part of the series.

Evictions aren’t always avoidable, but in some cases the tenants and landlords just need more information in order to prevent a disaster. Along with ensuring access to safe housing and preventing homelessness, helping residents avoid evictions in Central New York is a major goal for both the Volunteer Lawyers Project of Onondaga County (VLP) and The Syracuse Tenants Union (STU). Both organizations are distributing information and offering counsel to help tenants live in sustainable housing and avoid red marks on their housing resumés, especially during this turbulent time of a national pandemic and financial crisis.

STU is in the process of creating a tenants’ handbook that gives specifics to rental property tenants on how to make sure they are protected. The handbook, which is currently in production, offers a comprehensive list of what the tenants should know, including a description of their rights, how to seek legal counsel before they have a problem and the importance of keeping receipts and documenting interactions with landlords and Code Enforcement.

VLP offers trainings and legal counsel to residents facing eviction, as well as representation in court. If landlords assist their tenants by recommending counsel from VLP, they often can work out an agreement in which no one ends up in court. “The big goal for us is homelessness prevention,” said Sally Curran, executive director of VLP.

There are many complex laws and proceeds that the two organizations can help residents navigate.

For instance, the 2019 Housing Security and Tenant Protection Act was put into place to help families avoid homelessness and desperation by giving them additional time to plan prior to eviction. The new act gives tenants a 14-day warning, then 10-17 days of notice, a 14-day court adjournment and finally 14 days for tenants to leave. The act was designed to help residents comfortably relocate after researching a new property and building up funds. Previously, tenants were only allowed a few days of nonpayment before eviction proceedings began.

Any eviction can create issues if the tenant tries to rent or buy in the future. The eviction process for both tenants and landlords is time consuming and has major cost implications. Landlords nearly always have legal representation, yet the tenants rarely have counsel because they often can’t afford it. The outcome is that tenants, even if they show up to plead their case, may owe many months’ worth of back rent. The tenants will be asked to present documentation and receipts, yet without them they may not be able to prove hardship. “Having representation in court substantially changes the outcome for the tenants,” said Curran. “The misbalance of power without legal representation becomes really profound.”

After an eviction, tenants may owe thousands in back rent, but that could potentially be reduced if they have access to legal counsel. They also may not receive their hefty security deposit back (even if the code violations existed before they moved in originally), making it that much harder to find a new home. This is how a family may hurriedly choose another poorly kept property and continue the cycle of unreliable housing, putting their confidence and well-being at further risk.

The New York State Tenant Safe Harbor Act, which was established during the COVID-19 crisis to place a temporary moratorium on evictions, is not a free ride. It simply means that you can’t be evicted until after the pandemic crisis has passed. The moratorium is helpful in that it is specifically designed to keep people out of a homeless situation during a pandemic. According to the moratorium, which started on March 16, 2020, no renter who is unable to pay their rent due to circumstances caused by COVID-19 will be evicted until Governor Cuomo changes the terms. The end date of the moratorium has been pushed forward to January 1, 2021 at the time of this article’s release.

The moratorium is not a rent waiver, despite popular belief. If a tenant can pay their rent, then they should pay. At the end of the moratorium, VLP expects that its services will be even more necessary because these renters will need to provide documentation in court proving that it was an unavoidable hardship that caused their non-payment.

Regardless, tenants must pay their unpaid rent at some point. The Act states: “A court can never use unpaid rent that accrued during the COVID-19 period as the basis for a non-payment eviction of a financially burdened tenant; however, a court could impose a money judgment.” While the moratorium is helpful, there’s little chance that people can navigate this information well. Palmer Harvey of The Syracuse Tenants Union states, “The written legal terms of the moratorium don’t make sense to the average person. They need a version in laymen’s terms.” There are currently one million people in NYS who need rental assistance.

In addition, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act may also provide additional funding to offset the burden of unpaid rent. The CARES Act was passed by Congress and signed into law on March 27, 2020. This economic relief package delivers this administration’s commitment to protecting the public from the health and economic impacts of COVID-19. The CARES Act provides economic assistance for workers, families and small businesses. The CARES Act should help those who are able to sufficiently document their inability to pay their rent, but with so many in New York State who need rental assistance, the money could run out. Having legal representation for an eviction moratorium case will benefit the tenant greatly.

Legal representation from a case manager will reduce confusion around what could be a messy legal situation. Avoiding evictions, especially during a pandemic, helps to create a safe and healthy community for everyone, including landlords.

Landlords can help by addressing a situation before it turns into a legal undertaking; everyone will save time and money. Landlords can refer their tenants to VLP to speak with a case manager. Additionally, on September 14, 2020, Syracuse passed an additional renter protection: Now, landlords who have failed to register their one-and-two-family rental homes will be barred from evicting tenants if they do not participate in in the City’s rental registry.

Recently, the COVID-19 Community Support Fund provided grants to VLP and STU. STU is creating educational materials regarding evictions and renters’ rights. Both VLP and STU required personal protective equipment in order to meet with clients and conduct virtual court cases (in which the attorney is present with their client while the judge and landlord are virtual). VLP will also hire and pay law students to help with legal and pre-eviction counsel.

The COVID-19 Community Support Fund is a partnership of the Central New York Community Foundation, The United Way of Central New York, the Allyn Family Foundation, The Dorothy and Marshall M. Reisman Foundation, the Health Foundation for Western & Central New York and the City of Syracuse & Onondaga County. They established the Fund to support nonprofit organizations working with communities who are disproportionately impacted by economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. To date, the fund has raised over $1.8 million from which vital funding is rapidly deployed to support the region’s greatest needs.

Curran states, “Fewer evictions means that in the long-term, Syracuse property values will go up, there will be more economic opportunities and the unhealthy wealth gap in Central New York will be lessened.”

For more information on STU, email syrtenantsunion@gmail.com or visit their Facebook page.

To contact the Volunteer Lawyers Project for legal counsel, visit their website or call 315.471.3409.

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COVID-19 Community Needs Chronicle and Assessment Calls for Systematic Change

Written by Todd Goehle

On 4 June 2020, 26.5% of those hospitalized from COVID-19 in Onondaga County were Black. And yet, only 11.4% of the county’s total population is Black. As outlined within PEACE, Inc.’s COVID-19 Community Needs Chronicle and Assessment, the inequalities of our past continue to haunt our pandemic present. For the full assessment, visit the agency’s website. In the article below, Todd Goehle walks us through some of the major findings.

Overview

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives of Central New York residents. But what does this mean? Who is struggling? And in what ways? How can different forms of data be used to mobilize resources? To adjust antipoverty services effectively? To help those who are most vulnerable? In May, PEACE, Inc.’s Community Engagement Team began to research these questions. Our efforts became the COVID-19 Community Needs Chronicle and Assessment.

The team analyzed data from national, state, and local foundations, governments, and sources. We met with community leaders, staff members, and agency clients. Client case notes were collected as well. The team also used the Central New York Community Foundation’s Life Needs Assessment Survey, receiving 230 responses over the course of 11 days in May. Through our research, the assessment comprehensively explores the pandemic’s effects on Physical and Mental Health; Youth, Family, and Senior Supports; Food and Nutrition; Employment; Education; Childcare; Housing; Access to Capital; Technology; Access to Information through informal networks and media; gender; and race and ethnicity.

Findings

Two findings are noteworthy. First, the majority of the problems seen during the pandemic are not new per se. Rather, COVID-19 has intensified long-standing structural insecurities and inequalities.

So what do these complicated ideas mean? It starts with this map of Syracuse:[1]

 

The map was produced in 1937 by the Homeowners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), a federal agency that assigned neighborhoods 4 investment “ratings” and thus guided mortgage lending. The “riskiest,” rated “Hazardous” and colored “Red,” were based upon building conditions and racial demographics. Here, residents of color were unable to access federal loans. In “Definitely Declining” or “Yellow” neighborhoods, only 15% of residents could receive backing. Banned in 1968, “redlining” created obstacles for Black homeownership, a means for growing personal wealth historically. Redlining furthered financial disinvestment. And it deepened chronic poverty in communities of color.

Redlining, poverty, and issues of race, employment, and health have been well-documented in Syracuse.[2] More recent research by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) found that 3 of the 4 ZIP codes with the highest COVID-19 case rates had large portions of yellow or redlined neighborhoods.[3] Past and present disparities are linked. County health statistics also confirm how people of color are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in Onondaga County.

Onondaga County COVID-19 Cases by Race and Race as Percent of Population (4 June 2020)[4]

 

Race Percent Hospitalized by Race Race as Percent of Population
Black or African American 26.5% 11.4%
White 59.8% 79.9%
Other 9.2% 8.7%
Unknown 4.5% 0.0%

 

During the pandemic, cities across the country have declared racism as public health crisis.[5] With the legacies of redlining clear, the research of NYCLU and now PEACE, Inc. supports this claim for Syracuse.

A second key finding from the assessment: those most vulnerable in the COVID-19 pandemic lack multiple basic needs. Social Determinants of Health interact and reinforce one another to impact a person’s ability to remain healthy. Let’s address food and poverty.

Throughout the pandemic, the community has worked hard to provide nutrition for those in poverty. At PEACE, Inc., only 9.7% of nearly 230 Life Needs Assessment Survey respondents answered that they lacked food.[6] Still, as NYCLU noted, significant portions of those Syracuse ZIP Codes most impacted by COVID-19 are both “redlined” and classified as food deserts.[7] Poverty is layered. For example, nearly 40% of survey respondents “spend time alone more often than they would like.”[8] More than a third lack the technology to “meet needs for work, school, or other responsibilities.”[9] How might matters of socialization connect with hunger? The closing of Senior lunches and congregate meal sites has left low-income seniors both food insecure AND isolated.[10] Senior “Meals-to-Go” services have provided nutrition and smiles for those forced to remain at home. Yet the data reveals the smiles might only be temporary. The African proverb rings true, “One who eats alone cannot discuss the taste of the food with others.”

Other examples from the assessment are telling. An elderly woman raising 2 of her grandchildren can pay for groceries but lacks a car and has health conditions that make her nervous to ride the bus. A single mother struggles to cook -let alone to shop- due to a lack of home supports for her disabled child. A recently unemployed man who went to a food pantry for the first time now feels shame that he could not provide for his family. Food must be placed within wider contexts of poverty

For Action Steps, 3 policy suggestions can be recommended:

1) Services must be multifaceted, meet immediate need, and foster systematic change. The research reveals how trauma-informed services, local interventions where poverty is highest, and affordable Internet for impoverished families are just 3 examples that address long-standing inequalities and meet multiple needs.

2) Nonprofits must have difficult, inclusive conversations. By connecting the COVID-19 pandemic with longstanding inequalities, the assessment questions the effectiveness of our community’s antipoverty initiatives. It provides starting topics to advance conversation and change. And it supports the need for a) the rising community advocacy of recent months, b) more inclusive public forums, and c) equitable reform.

3) Building a Culture wherein Data is accessible to all. Like CNYVitals, the assessment provides public research and data. More transparency is needed, however. We hope critical assessments will spur partnerships and help local agencies value sharing data publicly. Defining the terms that we use to measure poverty can also challenge our underlining assumptions about it. Most think “Redlining” is bad. But can we explain it? Or connect it with the lived experiences of its victims? Trainings for staff, “lunch and learns” with the community, as well as monthly 1 to 2-page overviews are just some ways in which data can become more inclusive and equitable.

About PEACE, Inc.

Incorporated in 1968, People’s Equal Action and Community Effort, Inc. (PEACE, Inc.) is the federal designated Community Action Agency (CAA) for Syracuse, Onondaga County, and portions of Oswego County. The agency’s mission, “to help people in the community realize their potential for becoming self-sufficient,” defines its 9 antipoverty initiatives: Head Start, Family Services, Department of Energy and Housing, Senior Nutrition, Foster Grandparents, Senior Support Services, Eastwood Community Center, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Free Tax Preparation.


[1] Map retrieved from Central New York Community Foundation. (18 May 2018). “How the History of Redlining and I-81 Contributed to Syracuse Poverty.” CNY Vitals. Retrieved from  https://cnyvitals.org/how-the-history-of-redlining-and-i-81-contributed-to-syracuse-poverty/.

[2] See Ibid.; Onondaga County Health Department. (June 29, 2017). “Mapping the Food Environment in Syracuse, New York 2017.” Retrieved from http://www.ongov.net/health/documents/FoodEnvironment.pdf; and Urban Jobs Task Force (UJTF) and Legal Services of CNY. (2019) “Building Equity in the Trades: A Racial Equity Impact Statement.” Retrieved from https://www.ujtf.org/reis.

[3] NYCLU. (May 18, 2020). “Testimony of the New York Civil Liberties Union before the New York State Senate and the New York State Assembly regarding the Disproportionate Impact of COVID-19 on Minority Communities.” Retrieved from https://www.nyclu.org/sites/default/files/field_documents/20200518-testimony-coronavirusracialdisparities.pdf.

[4] PEACE, Inc. (2020). COVID-19 Community Needs Chronicle and Assessment. Retrieved from https://www.peace-caa.org/about-us/covid-19-community-chronicle-and-needs-assessment/.

[5] Vestal, Christine. (15 June 2020). “Racism is a Public Health Crisis, says Cities and Counties.” PEW Charitable Trusts. Retrieved from https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2020/06/15/racism-is-a-public-health-crisis-say-cities-and-counties.

[6] PEACE, Inc.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid.

[10] Eisenstadt, M. (May 1, 2020). “Crews bring lasagna and connection to the locked-in elderly starved for a friendly face (video).” Syracuse.com. Retrieved from https://www.syracuse.com/coronavirus/2020/05/crews-bring-lasagna-and-connection-to-the-locked-in-elderly-starved-for-a-friendly-face-video.html

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COVID-19 Expected to Cause $15 Million in Lost Arts Revenue

When New York went on pause in mid-March to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), arts, culture and heritage venues were among the groups to close their doors. Now, they will be one of the last groups eligible to reopen.

CNY Arts, a regional council that promotes, supports and celebrates arts and culture in Central New York, convened remotely with arts agencies across its seven-county service area from Central New York to the Mohawk Valley. The groups asked that we conduct a survey to understand and quantify the impact of the pandemic on local arts and entertainment organizations and artists. The Central New York Community Foundation, which expressed interest in understanding this impact as well, responded with a grant for us to engage Research Marketing Strategies, Inc. (RMS) to conduct a field survey.

The Results

With more than 265 artists and nonprofit arts organizations responses, the resulting data is humbling but not surprising. Collectively, more than 75% of the artists and cultural organizations surveyed stated the pandemic was having a severe to extremely severe impact on their livelihood or agency.

By the end of September, the loss of individual artist income is projected to be $2 million and agency income $13 million, for a total combined loss of $15 million. This data is being further explored to determine a nuanced industry-wide response to these figures.

On average, by late April to mid-May, agencies had only enough cash reserves to operate for another 23 weeks (this includes those who filed for CARES Act assistance such as the Paycheck Protection Program, aka PPP). The survey revealed that without a significant infusion of relief funding, starting as early as this summer through early November, many agencies may need to entirely suspend operations or permanently close their doors. The study also revealed that, on average, four full-time equivalents had already been let go from each cultural organization at the time of the survey.

Individual artists are expected to lose $17,000 of income by September 30 and since most artists responding earned between $5,000 and $24,999 this will be a loss of 98% (this accounts for 60% of the respondents) of their annual artistic income before the last three months of the year. Many individual artists expect that the recent losses could equate to almost ALL their prior year’s reported income. It’s important to note that many of these artists also work in other industries that are also imperiled by closures and a diminished economy.

The average agency loss by September 30 of this year is expected to be $122,000, a somewhat deceptive figure because of the range of agency budget sizes. Some agencies projected that their institutions would experience losses upwards of a half-million dollars or more by the end of the summer.

The Needs

The primary requests from artists and cultural agencies are emergency relief grants. While the Paycheck Protection Program loans and the extension of the loaning period has been helpful in retaining staff through this time, the field is preparing for further reductions in earned income, government grants, corporate giving and individual contributions. This scenario has put the future of these agencies at severe risk. We believe it is crucial that a fund be created to distribute relief and sustainability grants to agencies and individual artists.

The second most sought after help is no-interest loans. Currently, many government agencies have slowed or stopped payments for reimbursement and are not moving forward with new contracts. No interest loans would somewhat remedy this issue which is especially significant for the larger institutions. Providing even a percentage of funding assistance through no-interest loans could keep agencies in continuous operation and staffers employed.

Why Help the Arts Sector

Research conducted by the Americans for the Arts, the national arts agency, demonstrates that the arts have tremendous value in sustaining communities. Americans believe “the arts unify our communities regardless of age, race, and ethnicity (72%); they understand that we turn to the arts in times of trouble (81%); and that the arts help us understand other cultures better (73%). Arts promote healthy communities 73% of the population feels the arts give them “pure pleasure to experience and participate in.”

Arts build social cohesion. University of Pennsylvania research demonstrates that residents’ robust participation in arts and cultural activities leads to higher civic engagement in cities, more social cohesion, increased child wellness, and lower poverty rates. This is no less true in Central New York and surrounding counties; our own research has verified many of these national indicators.

Equally important, but perhaps the most overlooked, is the arts’ stellar performance as an economic driver. The arts sector creates jobs, supports local business activity, increases tourism, and pulls in peripheral dollars through audience spending, in addition to their ticket purchase or admission fee. The arts generate needed tax revenue for local governments and the state. In fact, all of New York State’s arts and cultural industries generate $114.1 billion to the state economy, employ 462,584 people, and provide $46.7 billion in compensation, according to new data released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

Next Steps & How You Can Help

In response to the current and critical need in the arts industry, we established the CNY Arts COVID-19 Impact Fund to provide emergency assistance for artists and cultural groups across seven counties in Central New York. Donate online now.

In addition, we are offering and curating statewide, regional and local COVID-19 related resources to local arts organizations such as webinars on how to produce virtual and online events, guidance on CARES, HEROES, and agency mergers, and continuing to offer technical assistance and arts promotional services to the public.

We are also currently offering mini COVID-19 Arts Relief Grants in the amount of $500 to small organizations and artists to help mitigate the financial losses they’re experiencing. We established a small GoFundMe campaign to allow individuals to support this cause. We also established an additional GoFundMe campaign for an arts education fund, which  connects students to teaching artists and provides both much-needed art lessons for gifted students and income for artists.

We will continue our work to advocate for the arts, culture and heritage sector by sharing our survey data with all levels of government, funders and other stakeholders across our region. We encourage those moved by the arts to consider taking action to support our sector, either through our current GoFundMe links or directly to your favorite arts provider.

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life”, said Pablo Picasso, who lived through the 1918 Pandemic. This is no less true today than it was a century ago and art in our lives is more needed than ever as we come together to grapple with this century’s pandemic.

Our thanks to the Central New York Community Foundation and The Gifford Foundation for their generous support to make this study possible.

CNY Arts provides support and assistance to individual artists and arts and cultural organizations through access to grants, capacity-building assistance, education and training, and promotional services. It serves the counties of Cortland, Herkimer, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga and Oswego. The organization’s primary goal is to enhance a greater appreciation for the arts and cultural vibrancy of the region. Learn more at http://cnyarts.org.

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