The eviction moratorium in New York State has ended on January 15th. The parties responsible for the restarting of the deadly eviction machine are many and all interconnected by a web of profit and accumulation. Here is our analysis of the current political, social and economic situation and our vision of a way forward towards a world free of for-profit housing and free of evictions.
What is the eviction moratorium and how does it affect evictions taking place?
In 2020, the CDC issued the first COVID-19 eviction moratorium, preventing legal evictions from taking place during the first deadly spike in COVID-19 cases. When the CDC moratorium ended, NY State issued a local moratorium to take its place until January 15. This halt on evictions only ever applied to tenants who could be removed from their homes legally through the court system. Legally, ‘eviction’ is a narrow term. Evictions—primarily illegal, but also certainly legal—have been occurring throughout the pandemic. We know this as we have been on the ground fighting them. And we know that the NYPD, who we are told again and again protect people from crime, are often accomplices to landlord brutality.
From the start, the system was set up to fail tenants. To be protected from eviction, tenants had to fill out a hardship declaration, and the state required landlords to sign documents saying they agreed with the tenant’s claims. Some landlords refused to do their part, leaving those tenants without protections. Other landlords simply resorted to threats, neglect, and violence in order to take possession of units and bring them to market.
Evictions—particularly legal evictions as carried out by for-hire marshals—are simply one of many forms of dispossession that target the working class. Other forms include, but are not limited to, deportation, incarceration, gentrification, rent, hyper-policing, medical apartheid — all aspects of settler colonialism and racial capitalism. Many of our neighbors here in Brooklyn have been displaced during the moratorium through banned practices and through subtler violences. Through rent increases, refused maintenance , abject negligence, harassment, physical abuse, threats of deportation, massive capital backlogs and crumbling buildings, tenants are and have been under relentless attack.
Despite the narrowness of the eviction moratorium in comparison to the wide variety of violence tenants face, stopping legal evictions from taking place was massively effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19 in the spring of 2020. Elected officials have played games with people’s lives by setting arbitrary dates for the “end” of the moratorium that do not take into account case spread rates, debt accumulated during the pandemic, work stoppages, or other hardships tenants face. Unleashing the backlog of evictions that currently sit on housing court dockets—there are currently 223,883 eviction cases pending in New York City—will be an unequivocal act of violence on the behalf of the state.
Why is the eviction moratorium ending on January 15th?
The moratorium does not exist in a political vacuum. In 2016 there were 36,343 evictions executed in New York City. After years of grassroots pressure, Right to counsel legislation was passed in 2017, promising legal counsel to low-income tenants facing eviction. This initiative began only in select zip codes, but in March 2020, at the onset of COVID-19, right to counsel was expanded to the whole city. The number of evictions in New York subsequently dipped in 2018 to 19,970, and to nearly 17,000 in 2019. These numbers show how legal evictions take place, in many cases, only because landlords have the wealth to hire legal support while tenants do not. In 2020, marshal-executed eviction dropped to 2,507 (though nearly all before the pandemic began); marshals have executed 245 evictions in 2021.
There are those who see the moratorium as a temporary measure whose conclusion is a matter of “when,” not “if”. Under a capitalist’s belief system, the eviction moratorium has to end because the primary goal of a pandemic response is to prevent profits from taking too big of a hit. On the other hand, there are those who understand that given new conditions, new possibilities, and new ways of organizing society, we can end evictions for good. The moratorium is not an example of these new conditions but it has shown what the tenant movement has worked for years to prove: that is, evictions are not inevitable— they are not characteristics of humanity or nature and they are not set in stone.
The moratorium and its arbitrary end date prove that evictions are created by a capitalist system that produces for-profit housing and requires profits to continue to grow at any cost. If evictions disappear but the current social and economic relations stay the same, then the other forms of violence characteristic of capitalism will step in to impoverish and displace the tenant class (as has been the case throughout the pandemic).
What happened to short-lived housing programs aimed at reducing transmission of COVID-19, such as NYC using hotel rooms to house people living in congregate shelters?
Until June 2021, NYC had a program for people living in congregate housing (where it is impossible to socially distance) in which they transferred them to one- or two-person hotel rooms. Mayor Bill de Blasio ended the program in the fall of 2021 as an attempt to draw tourists back to the city’s hotels, and at the expense of the health and safety of his own constituents.
The hotel room program, like the eviction moratorium, was hugely successful in reducing COVID-19 spread and showed that it is possible to make free housing available that is more private and desirable than a congregate shelter setting. Like the moratorium, this program exposed the fact that homelessness is not an inevitable part of life but a condition created by capitalism that we can end at any given time. Exceptional violence — like the violence of warehousing people in settings where community spread cannot be mitigated, or evicting people in deadly winter temperatures — is linked to the unexceptional and widespread suffering caused by for-profit housing.
Why wasn’t this program continued even though hotel rooms are sitting empty? Why can’t we use hotel rooms to house people now? This would be logical, but the current housing system only follows the logic of maximizing profit for the wealthy.
Why aren’t my elected officials doing anything??
The fight over housing is in practice driven by two forces: developers and nonprofit organizations. Both of these groups have immense lobbying power and influence over government officials due to the money they directly contribute to campaigns or how they influence the city economy. As a result, the housing crisis is being “addressed” by developers who build a small percentage of affordable units into building plans in order to receive tax breaks. Taxpayer money ends up paying FOR private developers to make massive profits off of housing, instead of being invested in their city’s publicly owned infrastructure or public housing. On the other hand, nonprofits that provide housing can be some of the most toxic landlords, which we know because their tenants call us for help. Because nonprofits are legally separate entities from private companies or individuals, they can be even more difficult to fight against. Collaborating with developers and nonprofits in these efforts to build units that won’t be maintained and/or will be aggressively means-tested (only allocated to a small proportion of “qualifying” tenants) falls under your elected official’s vision of “doing something.”
We know that the actual solutions to the housing crisis will not come from elected officials, but from organized tenants exercising their power. We do not need to beg politicians and the state to treat us with dignity. By organizing in our workplaces, in our buildings, and in our neighborhoods, we can build collective power, wield strength in numbers, and sharpen our determination. Politicians will be cast aside as their policy goals and false support are met at every step with the will of working class people determined to live in a world free of capital and its harms.
What does Brooklyn Eviction Defense think is an immediate step forward to address the housing crisis in NYC?
Brooklyn Eviction Defense members believe in using a variety of tactics to keep ourselves and our neighbors housed, and we have to work the system that currently exists in our day-to-day even as we attempt to build something better. We join our fellow tenants from Crown Heights Tenant Union, the Democratic Socialists of America, and the Housing Justice 4 All coalition in calling for the enactment of Good Cause legislation and the abolition of winter evictions. Good cause would mandate that landlords cannot refuse a lease renewal to an existing tenant in order to increase rent, and that they must show in court that a rent increase is warranted by improvements or other factors decided by the judge. While a winter eviction ban and Good Cause protections are necessary measures that will expand our legal capacity to organize and build toward ending evictions, to stop dispossession we have to go beyond simply reforming the existing for-profit housing system.
Can’t people who get evicted just find new apartments???
Opportunities to rent in New York City at an affordable rate are few and far between. What’s more, city conditions—the weak infrastructure, the policing of public transportation, the city’s blatant war on the poor and houseless, the ten-year waitlist for NYCHA, the state of shelters—ensure that evictions are never one-off acts of violence. Instead, they guarantee enduring marginalization. Given how the majority of rent debt falls on Black, Latine, and Asian households, resuming legal evictions is genocidal class warfare.
What is the thing ppl actually do? Go byond identifying the problem. Just because you pay more or move doesn’t guarantee that the conditions will be better. What does yield results is joining with fellow tenants and organizing to get better conditions. Not letting the state individualize the problems and let it fall on people without community support. Tenants in solidarity with each other is the solution!
Many people facing evictions would move if they had the resources to. Just because somebody moves voluntarily or begins to pay a higher rent doesn’t mean that their housing situation will be free of harassment or negligence. Tenants in solidarity with each other can secure the housing conditions we want through organizing and coordinating action. Stay and fight!
We’ve talked to people who would love to move if they have the resources but they don’t.