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Tenants rights groups call for rent and utility relief


Activists with Metro Justice and other groups are calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to extend the eviction moratorium until after the coronavirus pandemic is over, and to forgive their debts. It is scheduled to end on January 1st. 

Tenants rights activists warn that if the state of emergency is not renewed in the coming days, housing matters could get worse.

That’s because along with an eviction moratorium, there is a utility shut-off moratorium in effect in New York. But, it ends on October 4th with the expiration of the state of emergency. It’s uncertain whether it will be extended.

“The moratoriums that we've seen for rent in my view are kicking the can down the road,” said Rio Hartwell, co-chair of Metro Justice’s campaign for energy democracy. “They’re not alleviating debt and they’re not bringing back jobs.”

An RG&E collections report from August shows that nearly 63,000 households were more than two months past due while 31,000 have received shut-off notices. According to the U.S. Census Bureau Rochester residents on average spend about $200 a month for utilities. 

Some landlords with the Finger Lakes Landlords Association and the group Under one Roof have expressed concerns in recent months that tenants who were behind on rent before March may be taking advantage of the situation. 

Hartwell said that many people who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic are accruing more debt every month.

Credit by Rio Hartwell
Rio Hartwell is the co-chair of Metro Justice's campaign for energy democracy.

“I think that debt forgiveness is a way to start,” he said. “I don’t think we’re talking about reinventing the wheel here. I think we’re talking about a more humane response to a crisis that people really don’t have control over.”

An RG&E spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In July, Cuomo announced a COVID rental assistance program funded through the CARES Act. Tenants affected by the pandemic could apply for up to four months of rent relief. That window closed in August. It did not address unpaid utilities.

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