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New York State extended its eviction and foreclosure moratorium yesterday through Jan. 15, guaranteeing that families around the state economically suffering because of COVID-19 can remain in their homes at least a while longer.

The moratorium was passed during an extraordinary session of the state legislature Sept. 1 called by Governor Kathy Hochul. The moratorium allows more time for tenants and landlords to apply and receive funding from the $2.7 billion federally funded Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

“The pandemic thrust countless New Yorkers into financial turmoil and uncertainty, leaving many struggling to pay their rent,” Hochul said in a statement. “By expanding and better targeting our marketing and. outreach efforts, we can raise awareness in the communities that need our help the most, encourage more people to apply, and protect them from being evicted.”

The action comes after the Supreme Court last week nullified a moratorium by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention in counties where cases of COVID-19 are surging in the interest of public health, including much of New York and Long Island. 

Two weeks earlier, the Supreme Court sided with landlords and blocked part of the state’s eviction moratorium that allowed tenants to delay eviction by filing a form with their landlord or a court stating they experienced financial difficulties because of COVID-19. Landlords argued that their tenants could use the claims to avoid paying rent, even though they were able. The new moratorium allows landlords, banks and mortgage holders to challenge the tenant’s document in court.

In an interview with RiverheadLOCAL before the new moratorium was passed, Ian Wilder, the executive director of Long Island Housing Services, a housing counseling agency, said the moratorium’s extension would be helpful to tenants, but will only delay the inevitable. 

“A moratorium is going to end at some point,” Wilder said. “The question is: what’s going to happen on day plus one?”

Wilder said the delay on evictions won’t solve the root of the problem: the money the tenants owe to their landlords. He urges tenants struggling with eviction, and landlords struggling to pay bills without income, to fill out an application for emergency rental assistance as soon as possible.

Emergency Rental Assistance Program funds can help clear up to 12 months of past-due rent, 12 months of utility arrears payments and will cover three months of prospective rental assistance to low- and middle-income New Yorkers who show they make less than 80% of the area’s median income. Tenants who file an application for the emergency rental assistance funds are protected from eviction for up to a year, even if their landlord hasn’t yet filed an application for funds. To receive assistance, landlords must agree to waive any late fees on past rent and not increase monthly rent or evict them for one year, except in limited circumstances.

You can visit the state’s website to apply for relief and can call 1-844-691-7368 Monday-Saturday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. for help completing the application.

Approximately 19,435 households in Suffolk County are behind on their rent as of Aug. 2, according to the National Equity Atlas. Tenants in the Riverhead 11901 zip code have the most applications for the assistance on the East End, with 98 applications filed for rent arrears, 84 filed for prospective tenants and 25 filed for utility arrears, according to state data released Aug. 23.

As of Aug. 25, there were 15 evictions on the calendar for Sept. 8, Riverhead Town Justice Sean Walter said. Walter said that it seems like landlords and tenants are trying to work things out.

Republicans voted against the new moratorium in the Senate and the Assembly. Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) condemned the extension of the moratorium in a statement. He said he wasn’t able to attend the session in Albany because he contracted COVID-19 earlier in the week and was undergoing a mandatory quarantine.

“The extension of the eviction moratorium combined with the state’s complete failure to adequately disburse billions in federal rental assistance funds is an immeasurable blow to New York’s struggling property owners and tenants,” said Senator Palumbo. “Once again, Albany politicians are putting radical policy proposals ahead of good public policy initiatives that would actually help New Yorkers get through these difficult times.”

New York State has struggled over the past few months to distribute the Emergency Rental Assistance Program funds to landlords and tenants. The state has only obligated and/or paid $808 million of the $2.7 billion granted by federal coronavirus stimulus bills.  

“Property owners are in the business of managing property, maintaining property and collecting rent so tenants can reside comfortably. As we sit here today, businesses are open, restaurants are open and everyone else is allowed to be back in business — so when are we going to allow property owners and landlords to get back to business?” Palumbo said.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.