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State senators call on courts to freeze evictions during COVID-19 outbreak

NYCHA already decides to not kick anyone out during crisis

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With just about anything requiring direct contact between people shutting down because of the coronavirus, workers might soon start seeing a big chunk of their paychecks disappear, if not the whole thing. 

But two dozen state senators don't want to see those people out on the street because of it, signing a letter addressed to New York State Court of Appeals chief judge Janet DiFiore, asking her to place a moratorium on evictions until the COVID-19 crisis passes.

"Permitting evictions to continue will unnecessarily and unreasonably increase health risks from COVID-19 for New Yorkers," according to the letter penned by state Sen. Brian Kavanagh, a Brooklyn Democrat. 

"Many individuals and families who are evicted from their homes will be forced to live in public spaces, in shelters, or in other temporary and often precarious circumstances, limiting their ability to self-quarantine, and increasing their exposure to others. In addition, the thousands of people scheduled to appear in eviction-related proceedings each day will be forced to make the choice between risking exposing themselves or others to COVID-19, on the one hand, or giving up their legal rights and facing eviction from their homes, on the other."

Kavanagh was joined by a number of senators including Alessandra Biaggi and Gustavo Rivera. The senators want Judge DiFiore to stay all eviction proceedings before the courts, all outstanding warrants of eviction, and order all state and local marshals to cease executing warrants of eviction.

"The threat COVID-19 poses to people's health is very serious, especially for certain people who are vulnerable because of pre-existing health conditions," Kavanagh said in his letter. "In all aspects of our daily lives, government, businesses and individual New Yorkers are taking big steps to curtail activities that might increase the spread of the infection, with the goal of minimizing the danger of rapid, widespread illness that could stretch the capacity of our health care systems to respond."

Suspending evictions is not a unique concept, Kavanagh concedes, citing past responses to emergencies like the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Sandy. 

"In any case, we believe that the current public health emergency warrants immediate action," Kavanagh said. "No New Yorker should have to choose between their health and their home."

Councilman Andrew Cohen also called for a halt on evictions, but took it a step further — he wants there to be an immediate rent freeze.

"Anything less than a complete halt of all evictions, rent increases and utility shut-offs ignores the realities of how this and any public health emergency specifically punishes the most vulnerable and at-risk populations," Cohen shared Friday on Twitter.

Although it's not freezing rents, the New York City Housing Authority declared Friday it won't seek to evict anyone during the COVID-19 crisis.

"We are observing a moratorium on residential evictions, and extending our rental hardship policy to impacted households," said NYCHA chair and chief executive Greg Russ, in a statement. "Our hearing office is adjourning all cases."

NYCHA, which maintains communities at Marble Hill Houses and Fort Independence Houses locally, has increased daily cleanings at its properties, focusing on high-traffic and high-touch areas.

"We are communicating real-time information to residents, employees, and our partners on the most effective practices for preventing the spread of the virus," Russ said.

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