Organization Help USA Aims To Address Rent Arrears Caused By Coronavirus Pandemic

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Millions of Americans are being hit with a double whammy as the extra $600 a week unemployment benefit officially ends just as rent is due.

A new study reveals nearly 1.5 million New Yorkers are unable to pay and risk eviction.

When CBS2 met Joanna Laureano, she had just finished making lunch, a good day when compared to struggles that began before the coronavirus hit.

“It is scary because sometimes you have to choose, either you eat or pay your bills,” she told CBS2’s Aundrea Cline-Thomas.

Laureano faced eviction that was put on hold because of the pandemic.

Since June 23, when housing courts partially reopened, there have been 719 eviction filings. Laureano owed $14,000 in back rent and it was only a matter of time.

“I didn’t want to end up in a shelter. I couldn’t sleep. I was going crazy,” she said.

But she received one-time rental assistance from Help USA and social workers registered her in a program that could help long-term.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

“We want to clear all those backlog of cases out, not wait for Bronx housing court to reopen,” said Daniel Farrell Sr., vice president of Help USA.

Then Help USA can address rent arrears caused by the pandemic.
The average payout now exceeds $10,000. It has already spent nearly $1 million on cases in the Bronx and has more budgeted, thanks to city funding.

It’s a small price, Farrell says, when compared to the cost of homelessness.

“When people are housing unstable and there’s a churn, lots and lots of people in lots of different kinds of industries are negatively affected by that,” Farrell said.

In July, New York state launched its COVID rent relief program, but this week, housing advocates wrote a letter demanding an extension to the application deadline, citing language barriers and a lack of access to technology made completing the application impossible for many.

Juan Nunez, with the Housing Justice For All Coalition, says many of his clients don’t qualify.

“Black and brown communities, Latinx and our Asian community, the people that need it the most, the ones that were affected by the COVID crisis the most, are the also ones that are facing the evictions, that are facing the issues with their rent,” Nunez said.

With recent cuts to unemployment benefits and the statewide eviction moratorium set to expire Aug. 20, the need is unprecedented.

“We need more resources to serve the more families that we expect to have that need,” Farrell said.

Farrell says without more federal, state and local intervention, the entire region could eventually see an influx of homelessness that would last well into 2021.

BronxWorks, CAMBA, Inc. and Catholic Charities are other rent relief organizations in the city.

There are restrictions for rent relief programs, but the city has removed some of the red tape to quickly process cases.

Call 311 for more information.

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