Legislators, advocates arrested protesting against evictions

Assemblymember Marcela Mitaynes is arrested Thursday, Aug. 19, while protesting evictions in Downtown Brooklyn.
Photo by Ben Brachfeld

Housing advocates, including a number of local politicians, were arrested on Thursday morning in Downtown Brooklyn while protesting against the US Supreme Court’s ruling that struck down the state’s eviction moratorium — potentially ushering in a wave of evictions at the end of the month. 

Activists were arrested after sitting down in the middle of the roadway at Court and Remsen streets, adjacent to St. Francis College, where the State Senate was holding a hearing on New York’s lackluster Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

After repeated warnings, cops with the NYPD’s Strategic Response Group arrested around a dozen protesters in the roadway and charged them with disorderly conduct.

Photo by Ben Brachfeld

Among those arrested were Sunset Park Assemblymember Marcela Mitaynes and Queens Assemblymember Zohran Kwame Mamdani, as well as City Council candidates Sandy Nurse and Alexa Avilés. 

They were arrested with the intention of bringing awareness to the plight of the state’s renters in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling, as well as the impending expiration of the moratorium and the state’s slow rollout of rent relief to tenants and landlords.

While in cuffs and being led to a prison transport van, Mitaynes said that legislators needed to return to Albany immediately to restore protections for tenants. 

“As soon as I get out of jail, we have to go back to Albany,” Mitaynes told Brooklyn Paper.

The Supreme Court last week struck down a key tenet of the state’s eviction moratorium, which had allowed tenants to avoid going to Housing Court and stall eviction proceedings if they submitted a “hardship declaration” form showing that they had experienced economic distress as a result of the pandemic.

The state has had an eviction moratorium in place since March of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic first washed over New York. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced a new federal eviction moratorium for counties with high COVID transmission rates, guidelines that currently include all five boroughs — though that could stop applying to New York City if transmission rates get low enough.

Photo by Ben Brachfeld

Landlords sued to stop the moratorium, arguing that their lack of ability to challenge tenants’ claims violated their rights to due process. Landlords have also said that their inability to collect rent from those tenants experiencing hardship produced a hardship on them, especially for smaller property owners. 

The nation’s highest court untimely sided with the landlords, with the three liberal justices opposed to the 6-3 conservative-led ruling. 

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), the state’s major attempt to address this problem, which allows tenants to get credit for up to a year in back rent and three months of prospective rent — with state payments going directly to landlords — has been a bungling disaster: The City reported that less than 5 percent of the $2.7 billion allocated for rent relief statewide had been disbursed as of Aug. 17.

Data from the state shows that $98.6 million had been disbursed as of Aug. 9 to a little over 7,000 households, out of over 168,000 applications statewide. Michael Hein, commissioner of the state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, which is administering ERAP, said at the Thursday Senate hearing that $156 million had been disbursed to 12,000 households, and that enough funds had been “obligated” to recipients to prevent program money from being sent back to the feds.

Photo by Ben Brachfeld

The state’s eviction moratorium is already set to expire on Aug. 31; advocates say that expiration, and the failure of the state to adequately disburse rent relief, means untold numbers of people could be kicked out of their homes starting in a few weeks.

“We call people essential workers, we clap for them out our windows, we do all sorts of performative things,” said Williamsburg Assemblymember Emily Gallagher at a rally earlier Thursday. “But we are not doing the one thing that we need to do, which is house and protect people.”

“Putting people on the road makes no sense, because we won’t have the pandemic going anywhere,” said Paulette James, a tenant leader with the Flatbush Tenant Coalition. “And I think that the governor and all the responsible authorities should know that we are suffering, and they should have a conscience to know that we’ve got to be in a house.”

City Council candidate Sandy Nurse is arrested while protesting evictions.Photo by Ben Brachfeld

Prior to sitting in the roadway, advocates rallied at Cadman Plaza, calling on state legislators to return to Albany to amend the eviction moratorium and extend it until June 2022. They also want the state’s executive branch, which will have a new head honcho in Kathy Hochul on Aug. 24 upon Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s resignation, to fix the rent relief program.

“We want the legislature to go urgently back to session and pass an eviction moratorium that is not vulnerable to the Supreme Court’s decision,” Cea Weaver, campaign coordinator at Housing Justice for All, told Brooklyn Paper. “And we want the incoming governor to immediately improve the rental assistance program so that tenants and small landlords can get the support that they need.”

Photo by Ben Brachfeld

“We need to show [elected officials] how life-and-death this is for us,” Weaver said. “With the delta variant surging, and with millions of New Yorkers at risk of losing their homes, with less than 5 percent of rental assistance money out the door. We need to demonstrate to people just how real and just how serious this actually is. And we don’t think they’re taking it seriously enough at the moment.”