Opinion: SLC officials need to addess looming eviction crisis, Canton man says
Thank you for the opportunity to make a public comment and for all of the important work that the Board of Legislators does.
I want to ask the Board of Legislators to take action to prevent the tidal wave of evictions and foreclosures that are coming. St. Lawrence County has seen it’s unemployment numbers spike to nearly 17% as a result of the pandemic and economic crisis. Many more, through no fault of their own, have suffered a loss of income. Some are dealing with a health crisis or death within their family. Across the country 4.3 million homeowners were not able to pay their mortgage last month. Nationally nearly one third of renters could not afford to pay rent in April. These families are not deadbeats. They aren’t paying because they can’t pay, through no fault of their own.The eviction and foreclosure procedure is already starting in New York State. Although Governor Cuomo kinda-sorta extended the eviction moratorium though August, the way he went about doing that was ineffective and the eviction process is already starting. And August is only a month away.
While it would be ideal to address this crisis at the national or state level, so far that has not happened and it doesn’t look like we can count on it happening.
For this reason I want to urge the Board of Legislators to do what we can at the county level. I am not an expert on the nitty gritty of the procedure or the law, so I want to refrain from making nitty gritty proposals for fear that I am not in the best position to identify the best solutions. For what it is worth, the experts in the county have publicly stated that creative solutions are possible and realistic.
I will risk making two very general recommended solutions as a layperson and as a neighbor. First, I urge the Board of Legislators to suspend the authority of the Sheriff to enforce evictions and foreclosures for the next 12 months while other, better and more creative solutions can be worked out to address the root causes. Second, I urge the Board to make COVID a defense against eviction or foreclosure. This would cover both a loss of income and illness. The renter or homeowner should be able to assert COVID as a defense without an onerous process. A simple good faith assertion should be sufficient during this crisis.
Economists are estimating that if we don’t intervene to prevent it, homelessness could rise by 40-45% in the next year. This is not good for anyone. As the eviction and foreclosure process ramps up we will be forcing families in St. Lawrence to become homeless right before winter during a global pandemic. The problems this will create will be much more significant to the county. This isn’t good for landlords either, as they will struggle to find new tenants we will see the cost of rent plummet. Private equity firms are sitting on $2.5 billion of cash that they are referring to as “dry powder” ready to swoop in and buy up millions of foreclosed properties at bargain basement prices.
We saw them do the same thing after the 2008 mortgage crisis. We shouldn’t be helping Wall Street steal houses from families in St. Lawrence County, and the Sheriff’s office should be Wall Street’s muscle. I urge you to take action, to think creatively and be willing to push the envelope to prevent this next crisis in the making.
I will make myself available to the Board to help in any way I can. Thank you again for all that you do.