ITHACA, N.Y. –– Members of the Ithaca Tenants Union (ITU) organized an “eat-in” event last week outside of City Hall, celebrating the extension of the state-wide eviction moratorium, while also strategizing for its eventual end in August. ITU members set up a grill and prepared cookout food while also giving out literature, including their Upstate NY Tenants Rights Guide.

The moratorium, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo officially extended on May 4, was first passed last year in an effort to protect renters who were adversely affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the benefit to renters, the moratorium has faced backlash for leaving out landlords who have lost their income from tenants.

This latest extension aims to change that –– by extending the moratorium while also initiating a new Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) that distributes $2.4 billion in federal funds directly to landlords whose tenants qualify based on income, financial hardship or job loss –– landlords will recover back rent while keeping people in their homes.

As part of the state budget passed last month, the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance will administer ERAP funds to cover up to 12 months of unpaid rent and utilities accrued since March 13, 2020. Additionally, rent-burdened households (i.e. more than 30 percent of income goes toward rent each month) can also qualify for three additional months of prospective rent.

All tenants who receive ERAP funds will also be protected from eviction for one year.

The program, which has not yet begun, will aim to help those in the most need with the majority of the aid set aside for those earning no more than 80 percent of the median income. It also allows tenants to self-attest to their hardship, making it easier for undocumented and gig workers to receive approval.

More information can be found on the NYS OTDA site here, though it is unclear when applications will actually begin to be accepted.

The ITU, which stated its original intention of the gathering last Thursday was to raise awareness that eviction courts had opened had the moratorium not been signed, said in a statement that, “the extension has allowed the organization to shift focus towards the future of tenant’s rights in Ithaca, including more tenant organizing and pushes for local protections.”

The ITU also reminds residents that to gain protection as part of the moratorium you must fill out a declaration of hardship which is linked on its website here. The union also states that a helpline is available, “if you’re facing landlord harassment, disrepair, threats of eviction, or need help filling out the hardship declaration.” The number for that is (607) 358-5048 or fill out a form on their website and, “an experienced volunteer will contact you.”

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com