Gov. Hochul plans special session in Albany over COVID ‘eviction crisis’

Gov. Hochul on Friday called for a special session of the state legislature to address a potential “eviction crisis” after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a nationwide ban on evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

After blasting the court for what she called an “appalling and insensitive” ruling, the newly minted New York governor said she will meet with fellow Democratic leaders of the Assembly and Senate to make a path forward.

“Our teams will be working through the weekend to address how best to deliver relief to renters and homeowners in need as quickly as possible,” Hochul said.

State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said lawmakers agree with Hochul on the need to urgently come up with a plan to extend protections for renters in New York.

“This is the time for the government to step up and protect all New Yorkers as we continue to battle this pandemic,” Stewart-Cousins said.

Progressive lawmakers pushed Congressional leaders to move quickly to enact a new nationwide eviction moratorium.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) joined a group of four lawmakers who wrote to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pleading for action.

“We implore you to act with the highest levels of urgency to advance a permanent legislative solution in a must-pass legislative vehicle in order to extend the life-saving federal eviction moratorium,” the lawmakers wrote.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) also called the ruling a wake-up call for Congress to take action.

“This decision ... will put millions of people in danger,” Bowman wrote on Twitter.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said President Biden “is once again calling on all entities that can prevent evictions — from cities and states to local courts, landlords, cabinet agencies.”

Congress is on recess for a few weeks and is unlikely to take immediate action on legislation.

The main group representing New York landlords took a starkly different stance.

It cheered the Supreme Court’s decision, calling the open-ended eviction ban “unconstitutional” and illogical.

“The small, mom-and-pop businesses that own buildings with a half-dozen, 10 or 15 apartments don’t have the financial wherewithal to bear the brunt of the pandemic,” said Joe Strasburg of the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents landlords of New York buildings with about 1 million tenants.

The court’s action ends protections for roughly 3.5 million people in the United States who said they faced eviction in the next two months.

Despite the ruling, New York State’s eviction ban remains in effect until the end of the month, meaning the ruling will have limited direct and immediate impact on the estimated 500,000 New York City residents who are behind on rent payments.

However, a previous Supreme Court ruling had already eliminated a key part of the New York state eviction ban that allowed tenants to self-certify themselves as suffering financial distress from the pandemic, limiting its effectiveness.

The court said late Thursday in an unsigned emergency opinion that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lacked the authority to stop evictions under federal law without explicit congressional authorization. The CDC reimposed the moratorium Aug. 3, sparking the latest court fight.

The justices rejected the Biden administration’s claim that the ban was justified in part because it was targeted to the counties worst hit by the pandemic and also by the worsening surge of the delta variant.

“If a federally imposed eviction moratorium is to continue, Congress must specifically authorize it,” the court wrote.

Three liberal Supreme Court justices dissented.

Mayor de Blasio trashed the Supreme Court as “right wing extremists” after the unsigned Thursday night ruling.

“New York won’t stand for this vile, unjust decision,” said de Blasio.

The fight over banning evictions comes as the pace of distributing about $46 billion in pandemic assistance to renters and landlords remains painfully slow.

The Treasury Department says that the pace of distribution has increased and nearly a million households have received help. But only just over $5 billion, or a bit over 10% of the cash, has been handed out to state and local governments.

The Biden administration has called on state and local officials to “move more aggressively” in distributing rental assistance funds and urged state and local courts to issue their own moratoriums to “discourage eviction filings.”

Tenant advocates say the eviction moratoriums are needed because millions of Americans have lost their jobs or income during the still-raging pandemic and face becoming homeless.

Landlords counter that the worst of the COVID-19 crisis has ended and they should not have to bear the economic burden of keeping tenants who cannot or will not pay their rent.