Landlords, too, are facing significant debts. A January survey representing about 40,000 rent-regulated units in New York City estimated that tenants in rent-regulated apartments owed $1.1 billion in arrears, according to Community Housing Improvement Program, a group that represents landlords. That debt has fallen to roughly $700 million, said Michael Johnson, a spokesman for the group, in part because of tenants paying back rent, but it could also reflect at least some of that debt simply being absorbed by property owners.
While $2.4 billion has been reserved for an emergency rental assistance program in New York State that was first announced in December, applications have not yet opened, said Barika Williams, the executive director of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, a coalition of housing nonprofits. (A state website promoting the program now says the applications will open June 1.)
“We cannot as a city allow entire neighborhoods, especially communities of color, to be submerged by the coming eviction tsunami and think that’s an OK public policy,” she said.
For Ana Galvez, 38, a longtime resident of a six-story walk-up in the Melrose section of the Bronx, last year was the first time in a decade that she has been unable to catch up on rent payments.
Ms. Galvez lost her job in the kitchen of a Brooklyn restaurant in February 2020, at the start of the pandemic. She supports two daughters, a 9-year-old in New York and a 19-year-old in Mexico, who she hasn’t seen since leaving the country 15 years ago.
There were times over the years when she fell behind on rent, but she always caught up, Ms. Galvez said through a translator with CASA, a tenant advocacy group. But after losing her job, she hasn’t paid the $1,775 rent on her two-bedroom apartment since March 2020, a debt that could exceed $25,000, after other fees.
She does not qualify for unemployment assistance, because she was paid in cash, so she has relied on food banks and has started selling tamales and fruit in the neighborhood, from a shopping cart that she hauls up and down the stairs of her building.