The Specter of Displacement & Homelessness
Housing insecurity is a fundamental issue. Governor Cuomo used emergency powers to close down the housing courts until late June and prohibit evictions until late July for Covid-related non-payment of rent. As of this writing, the state-wide housing justice movement has successfully pressured the courts to postpone all eviction cases until August 6.
As jobs disappeared, many of our immigrant friends were in a bind: little or no current income or savings to pay monthly rent which sometimes amounted to 50% or more of their income when fully employed. UIDN volunteers helped to negotiate reduced rents from landlords in return for early payment.
Between January and the end of June, we helped about 120 families to access over $90,000 from United Way and Catholic Charities, and over $58,000 that we raised ourselves, for rent and utility support. From July through December, we hope to expend over $71,000 in rental and utilities support.
UIDN will not be able to sustain this level of support indefinitely. Nor can we reach the many other families who we need help. Even before the formal eviction process resumes, some families are already moving in with friends or relatives to make housing – however crowded – more nearly affordable.
And, there’s More to the Housing Crisis than Covid
The housing crisis is not just a side-effect of Covid-19. Here in Ulster County, as elsewhere, there is a chronic shortage of affordable housing, especially for low- and very low-income renters. Few units are vacant, and much property that is available is substandard in safety and health, even though it rents for substantial sums. Speculators are often eager to gentrify properties, flipping them from low-income to higher income occupants, as the Mid-Hudson area becomes a magnet for buyers from NYC and elsewhere.
This many-pronged housing crisis inspired Brooklyn State Senator Zellnor Myrie’s bill that would halt all evictions and foreclosures until a year after the statewide emergency ends in New York. There is also a Congressional movement for a federal fund to reduce the nationwide shortage of more than 7.2 million affordable housing units. Housing justice advocates have three broad goals (1) Prevent displacement of renters by enacting rent stabilization laws; (2) Provide financial aid to very low-income renters; (3) Build and renovate more affordable housing for low-income renters with public support.
What’s “Affordable?” Who is “Low Income?”
In federal housing legislation, a household is “housing cost-burdened” if monthly rent or mortgage costs exceed 30% of the occupant’s monthly income, and “very cost-burdened” if monthly housing costs exceed 50% of income. The problem is compounded for occupants with “very low income” (less than 50% of the area’s median income) or “extremely low income” (less than 30% of the area’s median income). Public programs offer limited assistance to meet burdensome housing costs, but undocumented immigrants are generally not eligible for this aid.
These combinations of low income and high cost are very common for immigrants, among others, and not just in the Hudson Valley. Housing experts now expect that upwards of 20 million people (one fifth of all renters) will be threatened with eviction and literal homelessness across the U.S., if courts and police forces attempt to evict all residents who cannot pay their rent or mortgage over the next few months. Let’s not even talk about how this will be managed if Covid-19 pays us a second big visit. Our society clearly seems to need a different way to manage the supply and financing of residential housing, even in “healthy” times.
A Coalition for Affordable Housing Steps Up
UIDN has joined a Mid-Hudson coalition of groups to protect all rent burdened low- and middle-income tenants from evictions, based on the Covid-19 economic crisis and the already serious shortage of affordable housing in our area. Other groups in the coalition include the Real Kingston Tenants’ Union, Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, the Kingston Interfaith Council, Rise Up Kingston, and more.
While Covid-19 threatens safe workplaces and schools during the next several months, the coalition calls for cancellation of all evictions, cancellation of rent during this period, and a memorializing decision by local governments to create a substantial percentage of permanently affordable housing. Coalition leaders have been meeting with the Kingston City Housing Committee, RUPCO, and County leaders as well. Talks will be on-going to secure protection for vulnerable renters and rapid creation of affordable housing. As the national elections loom closer, similar coalitions aim to knit together a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-class movement to demand housing justice for all. Stay tuned!