Affordable housing advocates paint grim picture in Capital Region

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With a moratorium in place for tenants who have lost their job and no real threat of eviction, it’s been calculated that nearly eight million rental properties across the country are behind on payments.

However, for those looking for affordable housing during the moratorium and global pandemic, the ride hasn’t been smooth.

That includes Mildred Villegas.

When you ask Villegas to describe what 2020 was like to her, she can do it in one word, "tumultuous."

She was quarantined, and also battled pneumonia and a cold.

After quarantine, she left her home in Saratoga Springs, and traveled down south trying to get away from the growing COVID numbers here in New York.

She then came back and landed on her daughter’s couch for months longer than she expected.

Then a fight left her on the streets, homeless in December, with only the clothes on her back.

She says she was terrified of even the idea of a shelter, thinking she would be killed there. However, her fears were unfounded.

At Mercy House, she connected with Sondra Young, the executive director of Catholic Charities.

Suddenly, her situation wasn’t as solitary as Villegas imagined.

However, Young paints a grim picture of the affordable housing situation in our area.

She says on any given day, their wait list at Catholic Charities is about 100 people, but right now, it’s 200 and counting.

She says people aren’t leaving, and things may get worse when the eviction moratorium lifts.

She’s not the only one worried.

Her fears are echoed by people like Laura Felts, with the United Tenants of Albany.

She warns she thinks we’re going to see mass homelessness and mass evictions.

Learn about why a program that was supposed to help tenants isn’t helping the way it was meant to by watching the video of Paulina Bucka’s story.

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When the pandemic hit last March, it crippled our economy in many ways.

People shuttered at home while businesses closed their doors.

Many lost their income others lost their lives.

But with it, our already struggling affordable housing situation strained local land lords and tenants alike.

Laura Felts with United Tenants of Albany says in New York ‘we are seeing somewhere between 800 thousand and a million households have been unable to pay the cost of their rent.’

But before the pandemic the Capital Region saw about 4,000-5,000 evictions a year.

Nationally while there has been a moratorium in place since September of 2020, that doesn’t mean some didn’t lose their housing.

Laura Felts with United Tenants of Albany says, ‘over the course of this year [they’ve] seen 2 state rental assistance programs.’ She says however, only 2% of people in crisis have actually received the money.

In fact in Albany County, the Sheriff says evictions were down in 2020 with a total of 308 compared to 1098 in 2019. So far this year, they’ve completed 4 evictions and have 97 warrants that are still pending.

The Saratoga County Sheriff says they’ve had 13 evictions since September.

Statewide, the office of court administration says 6,817 people have filed hardship declarations.

With 5,000 pending evictions, 1000 are to prevent eviction.

Sondra Young with Catholic Charities says because of the moratorium ‘no one is really in imminent risk of eviction some of the funds are only for imminent risk.’

4 million dollars came down through the cares act to Syracuse and Onondaga County to help aid tenants paying rent, but only about 72,000 has actually made its way to the people according to the court of administration.
There’s also been programs rolled out by the Housing and Urban Development, HUD, to help renters in tough situations.

But Laura says none of her tenants has benefitted from the program.

It’s not just the tenants who are struggling.

Sondra says the focus has been on the tenants, but landlords are also hard-hit.

She says most of that money won’t make it to struggling people until the pandemic restrictions are all lifted.