Tag: inequity

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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What are Redlining and Urban Renewal? Inequality and Resistance in Mid-Century Syracuse

AN ANTI-POVERTY PROJECT: This is the first of many essays to be released by PEACE, Inc. and Ocesa B. Keaton LMSW, executive director of Greater Syracuse H.O.P.E.

Each month, they will explore different dimensions of an issue that affects all Central New Yorkers – poverty. They will unpack topics that are frequently discussed but perhaps not well understood. Additionally, they will present accessible tools to engage/inform people, to build coalitions and to advance policies for change. 

REDLINING. URBAN RENEWAL. Each are terms that many are recently hearing for the first time. The former sounds negative. The latter – on the surface – sounds positive. Yet what are they? Why have these terms emerged as ways for understanding American cities – including Syracuse – and the racial inequalities that plague them? How have these policies helped to concentrate power in the hands of a few and to create poverty among communities of color? How have the vulnerable challenged the inequality introduced by REDLINING, URBAN RENEWAL, and more? In response, we look to answer these questions and begin our broader paper series by contending that the past can shed light on our city’s current plights and inspire the many community reform movements seen at present.

Like other American cities in 1937, Syracuse and its neighborhoods were assigned 4 categories or “colors” by the Homeowners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), a newly created federal agency. The categories were mapped to guide investment and mortgage lending during the Great Depression. Still, the promise of economic recovery for all fell short, as categories were based upon the neighborhood’s housing conditions and racial demographics in particular. The “riskiest” neighborhoods -rated “Hazardous” and colored “Red-” were African-American communities who were denied home loans. In locations deemed “Definitely Declining” or “Yellow,” only 15% of the residents could access loans. Reversed by the Fair Housing Act of 1968, REDLINING nonetheless prevented Black homeownership and deepened disinvestment in communities of color.

A 1937 Map of “Redlined” Syracuse by the Homeowners’ Loan Corporation (University of Richmond)

 

African-American neighborhoods in Syracuse were not immune to this policy. Near the city’s downtown, the 15th Ward provided a space for African-Americans escaping the racial violence of the American South and the broader discrimination of Central New York. A former resident perhaps described it best when he described the 15th Ward, “Back then, all the blacks lived near each other… That’s how everybody knew each other. And blacks could only rent in certain parts of the city, so that’s why they ended up in the 15th Ward, because whites wouldn’t rent to them on the East Side, on the North Side, on the West Side or the South Side.” (The Stand) Landmarks such as SUNY Upstate medical complex, the Jefferson and Madison Tower Apartments, and I-81 now stand where the 15th Ward once stood. More on this in a minute.

The earlier description of the 15th Ward reflected the effects of non-governmental practices such as Article 34 of the National Association of Real Estate Boards (see below). But such discrimination was also a product of the law, and it wasn’t only Redlining. For example, the Housing Act of 1937 held a provision that, among other policies, allowed for what was described as “slum clearance.” In Syracuse, this led to the creation of Pioneer Homes, one of the nation’s first public housing initiatives. Interestingly, Pioneer Homes was originally intended for whites only. Through the actions of African-American organizations such as the Dunbar Community Center, some degree of integration became possible. (Stamps, 56) Herein lies an important point. As new systems of racial inequality were created, Syracuse’s small but growing Black community challenged them.

Founded by a former slave, the PEOPLE’S AME ZION CHURCH is the oldest Black congregation in Syracuse. It was located at the above site, 711 E. Fayette Street, from 1910 to 1975. The church served as a cultural center for the 15th Ward’s Black community and a site for civil rights activities. There are continued attempts to refurbish the church, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. (PACNY)

 

Later amendments, specifically the Housing Acts of 1949 and 1954, provided additional resources for public housing, slum clearance, and private development. (Rothstein) Such acts of URBAN RENEWAL were accompanied by laws such as the Federal Highway Act of 1956, which looked to interconnect the economies of American cities through 41,000 miles of Interstate. As wealth moved to the suburbs, restrictive covenants –or legal requirements written about a property included in the deed– continued to prevent African-Americans from purchasing homes and ensured “white-flight” was indeed white. In the name of economic “progress,” Urban Renewal cleared blighted properties and relegated African-Americans to declining neighborhoods, leading author James Baldwin and others to describe it as “Negro Removal.”

Such processes affected Syracuse and its downtown as well. For example, the first of the two AXA Towers that currently define the city’s skyline was originally built as the MONY Building in 1966 and was one of the larger accomplishments of the initial “Downtown-I” urban renewal project. (Knight, 17) Most notorious however was the construction of the I81 Viaduct. It physically destroyed the 15th Ward and caused the removal of an estimated 900 African-American families from their homes, and affected more than 80% of the city’s black population at the time. (Stamps, 81; Knight, 10) Here the literature is increasingly extensive; references to a few of the studies can be found at the end of this document.

Less discussed are the forms of African-American resistance against government-sanctioned removal. Mirroring national developments, Syracuse residents also used advocacy to advance social justice, which helped enact policy and create reform with the aim to improve the conditions of African-Americans. For example, the passing of the aforementioned Fair Housing Act of 1968, which outlawed much of the housing discrimination outlined in this text, came during a time of unrest, specifically the national civil rights movement and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Previous attempts to pass such a bill had failed due to a lack of Congressional support. In Syracuse, the destruction of the 15th Ward and the racial discrimination which prevented its residents from securing quality housing were catalysts for protest. Impacted residents formed groups to present their demands to elected officials. Two of them—the Southside Home Owners Association and the Eastside Cooperative Council– delayed construction of I-81 by two years due to demands of fair pay for the sale of their home. Formed by Dunbar, the Eastside Cooperative Council consisted of human agency groups that served the Eastside of Syracuse. (Stamps, 83) The Council was able to serve as a conduit for information between the community and representatives of the Urban Renewal Program. The council actively worked to create a relocation plan and helped lay the groundwork for the creation of the Relocation Office in 1959. (Stamps, 83)

Later in 1963, The Congress of Racial Equity (CORE) organized protests against the urban renewal in Syracuse. The protest included directly confronting city officials, blocking construction sites, and sitting on cranes to stop demolition work. CORE remained a prominent fixture in the Syracuse community and helped to organize other protests with the goals of creating a more inclusive city for African-Americans.

Insertion of Steel Placements, April 1967 (DOT)

 

IN CONCLUSION, one might ask, why focus on the past? What does history have to do with nation-leading rates of poverty among Black and Brown peoples in Central New York? Why start here? For us, understanding the policies that produced an unequal past -such as REDLINING and URBAN RENEWAL– helps us better understand the conditions that shape our unequal present. Within the past decade, national and local research has shown how the highest rates of concentrated poverty, lead, obesity, gun violence, COVID-19 hospitalizations, and more exist within Syracuse’s previously red– and yellow–lined neighborhoods. In other words, the legacies of REDLINING and URBAN RENEWAL are still seen and negatively felt every day. They are legacies that have established a STRUCTURAL INEQUALITY wherein persons of color in particular have lacked equal access to resources, decision-making, opportunity, and the law. As noted, research has exposed these negative legacies. Yet so too has a mobilized local community that -in this moment of the Black Lives Matter movement, the George Floyd killing, and debates about police reform– once again draws inspiration from national developments. And therein lies a final critical point for looking at the past. One that is perhaps more positive and hopeful. It is to see how those most affected by structural inequality have always combated and challenged it. That they have not been silent in the face of repression.

Next month, we will continue the series. We will discuss HOUSING and poverty to further explore this concept of STRUCTURAL INEQUALITY. Until then.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES 1) Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America: The University of Richmond’s interactive website that includes original HOLC maps of American cities and descriptions of graded neighborhoods (including Syracuse). 2) In 2019, The ROOT published a YouTube video, How Redlining Shaped Black America, that effectively outlines the racist legacies of redlining on American cities today (Warning: Strong Language is used). 3) NewsChannel 9 with its “Hidden History: The End of the 15th Ward,” WAER’s “City Limits: A Poverty Project,” and the Onondaga County Historical Association with a special exhibition each released reports about the 15th Ward of Syracuse in 2019.

FOOTNOTES AND SOURCES

Bridge Street. “Remembering the 1963 CORE Protests.” WSYR, February 22, 2018. https://www.localsyr.com/bridge-street/asseen-on/remembering-the-1963-core-protests/. Knight, Aaron C., “Urban Renewal, the 15th Ward, the Empire Stateway and the City of Syracuse, New York.” Syracuse University Honors Program Capstone Projects, 590, 2007. https://surface.syr.edu/honors_capstone/590. New York State Department of Transportation. “History of Transportation in the City of Syracuse.” I-81 Viaduct.

New York State Department of Transportation (DOT), 2020. https://www.dot.ny.gov/i81opportunities/history.

“Mapping Inequality, Redlining in New Deal America: Syracuse.” Digital Scholarship Lab, 2020. https://dsl.richmond.edu/ panorama/redlining/.

“1924 Code of Ethics.” National Association of Realtors (NAR), 2020. https://www.nar.realtor/about-nar/history/1924-code-ofethics.

“PACNY Celebrates Black History Month.” Preservation Association of Central New York (PACNY), 2013. http://pacny.net/ home/.

Rothstein, Richard. The Color of Law: a Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. New York, NY: Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W.W. Norton & Company, 2018.

Stamps, Spurgeon Martin David, and Miriam Burney Stamps. Salt City and Its Black Community: a Sociological Study of Syracuse, New York. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2008.

“Vision.” Greater Syracuse H.O.P.E., 2019. https://www.greatersyracusehope.org/.

About the Authors: Todd Goehle is Planning/Community Engagement Manager at PEACE, Inc. and previously a SUNYAward Winning Lecturer of History and Humanities. Ocesa B. Keaton is Executive Director of Greater Syracuse H.O.P.E. and a Licensed Social Worker. To learn more about the project, reach out to Community.Engagement@peace-caa.org.

 

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