As housing advocates are pushing for tenant protections in the state budget, data published by the Cornell University ILR School Buffalo Co-Lab shows that the Bronx had the second-highest eviction filing rate in the state in 2022.
Across the borough, 9.5% of renter-occupied households faced eviction filings last year, a rate higher than every county in the state other than Rensselaer County in the Capital Region, which saw 10.7%.
Julie Colon, the lead housing organizer at the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, who works with tenants facing the threat of eviction, told the Bronx Times that she isn’t surprised by the data, though the pandemic and its after-effects have uncovered some of the longstanding issues in the borough.
“The Bronx has always been the epicenter of this,” she said. “ … I’m not personally surprised by it because I’ve been here all my life, I’ve always seen it, I’ve always known it, but other people are now getting to see it.”
The Cornell data shows that there has been a boroughwide jump of 5.9 percentage points for eviction filings from 2021 to 2022, in light of the state’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium expiring in January 2022. But the rate in 2022 is still 5.8 percentage points lower than before the pandemic, with 15.3% of Bronx rental units facing eviction filings in 2019.
The university’s interactive website, which went live last Thursday, reveals tenant struggles on a district-by-district basis.
In 2022, six out of 11 Bronx state Assembly districts ranked in the top 10 — out of 150 districts statewide — for the highest eviction filing rates.
When comparing the 63 Senate districts across the state, two out of the Bronx’s five made the top 10, ranking first and second.
State Sen. Gustavo Rivera told the Bronx Times that while the eviction filing rate of 11.2% in his district is “startling,” the statewide data doesn’t show a full picture of how New Yorkers are being displaced.
In Assemblymember George Alvarez and Sen. Rivera’s districts, which both rank first for eviction filings and partially overlap, just 19.2% and 27.5% of tenants live in homes with unregulated rents. Both districts are majority Hispanic or Latino.
Residents in rent-stabilized apartments are entitled to renew their leases, and their rents can only be increased by certain amounts each year, but people who live in unregulated units don’t have those same rights. So while residents in unregulated apartments can be pushed out of their homes through exorbitant rent increases or being denied a lease renewal — actions that have the impacts of eviction but aren’t tracked as such — landlords for regulated units have to go through housing court to push tenants out through on-the-books evictions.
With that in mind, Rivera argued that since there is a high percentage of regulated apartments in his district, displacement attempts are better recorded than areas with more unregulated apartments that push out tenants through less official means. Rivera’s district includes Riverdale and its surrounding northwest Bronx areas, as well as Norwood, Fordham, Pelham Parkway and parts of Morris Park.
“The poverty rate in my district means that many tenants fall behind on rent and landlords resort to filing eviction cases in court more readily because of rent regulations,” Rivera said. “Language barriers and unscrupulous tactics by landlords also contribute to these startling eviction rates.”
The Cornell data also measured New York’s districts through the percentage of rent-burdened tenants, meaning households spending more than 30% of their incomes on rent in 2022. Through this measurement, three of the five Bronx Senate districts fall in the top 10.
State Sen. Luis Sepúlveda’s district had the highest percentage of rent-burdened residents statewide, even though less than 6% of renters in his district live in unregulated units. His district, which includes Tremont, Crotona Park East, Claremont Village, Morrisania and Longwood, has a population that is 64% Hispanic or Latino and 31% Black.
Meanwhile, half of the top 10 rent-burdened Assembly districts statewide are in the Bronx. Like with eviction filings, Alvarez’s district — which includes Belmont, Fordham, Kingsbridge Heights and Bedford Park — placed first.
“When you have some families that are spending 30% or more on rent of their income, we are telling them ‘you are going to fail,’” Alvarez told the Bronx Times in an interview. “We don’t want that to happen. We want people to succeed.”
Alvarez, a first-term lawmaker, said that while the Cornell data supports what he has already known about his district, it perplexes him that the area is struggling as much as it is with various cultural attractions in its jurisdiction, like the Bronx Zoo, New York Botanical Garden, Little Italy and the Kingsbridge Armory, as well as Fordham University, Monroe College and Lehman College. While Alvarez doesn’t currently know how many district residents are employed by these institutions, he wants to ensure that the armory, which is undergoing planning stages, will employ locals.
“We are not giving them (tenants) the tools that they need in order to succeed,” Alvarez said. ” … My commitment is to create an environment where they can work, they can have good-paying jobs, and have the resources and tools to fulfill their obligations, their responsibilities. We as elected officials have to create that, and that’s something that we haven’t seen for years in our district and that’s why the metrics that we are seeing today are so horrible for my district and for the people who (are) living there.”
Investments in housing and education, which make for a safer district, can also help the districts’ metrics improve, he said.
A push for tenant protections
Almost all of the state lawmakers who represent the districts on these lists have something in common: they are sponsors on the Good Cause eviction bill. Assemblymember John Zaccaro Jr. is the only one who isn’t, but he told the Bronx Times that he plans to sign on.
First introduced in 2019, the Good Cause bill prohibits landlords from pushing tenants out of their homes unless they have a good reason, like tenants not paying rent or causing a nuisance. The bill also allows tenants to challenge unreasonable rent increases, which are defined as larger than 3% or 150% of the Consumer Price Index.
While the real estate industry has pushed back against the bill, branding it as anti-development and harmful to small landlords, more than 100 landlords across the state wrote a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul in support of the measure, the Daily News reported Tuesday. On Wednesday, 15 unions called on state leaders to support the effort, City & State reported.
Housing Justice for All, an advocacy group that has been pushing for Good Cause to be included in the budget, has also been advocating for two other efforts that failed as bills last session: one would create a housing voucher program that provides rental assistance to New Yorkers who are homeless or face an imminent loss of housing, and the other, Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA), would help tenants buy buildings they live in when they’re put up for sale.
The Assembly and state Senate both provided $250 million for the voucher program in their budget proposals and included support for the ideas behind Good Cause, though not necessarily the bill itself. The Assembly alone included $250 million for efforts that align with TOPA.
Gov. Kathy Hochul excluded all three measures in her budget proposal, and the clock is ticking for negotiations, with the state budget due by April 1.
Reach Aliya Schneider at [email protected] or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes