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Albany County legislators announce new effort to protect renters from eviction

"I understand a lot of the issues that small landlords are going through, I have respect for the landlord tenant relationship." ~ Albany County Legislator Sam Fein.
Dave Lucas
/
WAMC
"I understand a lot of the issues that small landlords are going through, I have respect for the landlord tenant relationship." ~ Albany County Legislator Sam Fein.

The Albany County Legislature is gearing up to launch a pilot program to assist residents facing eviction and prevent homelessness.

Legislature Chair Andrew Joyce, a Democrat, says the legislature is partnering with local legal and tenant organizations and the city of Albany to initiate a new pilot program to aid tenants facing eviction in Albany County. It’s called EPIC, "the eviction protection intervention collaborative."

Joyce noted that most households are just one crisis, one setback away from housing insecurity. And he says the pandemic has made the situation worse.

"The Albany County Legislature approved a $160,000 investment will be part of a comprehensive effort by the legislature to help residents impacted by the pandemic, with a total funding of $320,000 as part of the EPIC program to provide legal assistance, referrals and advocacy for tenants facing eviction and housing instability throughout from work with the Legal Aid Society, Joyce said. "We'll get support through Albany Law and their team to train court advocates and represent tenants.”

The resolution passed Monday along partisan lines by a 24 to 9 vote.

Joyce praised fellow-Democratic legislator Sam Fein, who he credited with being one of the first people in the Capital Region to talk about the issue. Fein, who represents the 6th District, hailed the passage of funding for EPIC as a "major victory for tenants in Albany County," which addresses a "major imbalance" in the court system.

"In Albany, only about less than 2% of tenants who are facing eviction have access to legal counsel while about 95% of landlords have legal counsel," said Fein. "When someone is sitting before a judge their risk of losing their housing, they deserve representation that only an attorney can provide. Now, I'm a landlord. I'm a small landlord. So I understand a lot of the issues that small landlords are going through, I have respect for the landlord tenant relationship. But I also want to highlight the unique position that tenants are in in an eviction case. When a tenant goes into court and sits before a judge, they're at risk of losing their housing, their risk of becoming homeless, their risk is their family's life being uprooted. The least that we can do for them is to ensure that they have someone to advocate on their behalf."

29th District Republican legislator Mark Grimm calls the resolution "a war against landlords" that takes sides in a civil dispute between two private parties, tenants and landlords.

"I talked to a landlord yesterday," Grimm said. "He said a tenant did not pay any rent for two years, took advantage of COVID, left the apartment and then didn't even inform the landlord. And when he got there, the pipes are all broken and the place was destroyed. This is life as a landlord in New York State today. I've talked to landlords that say, 'forget it. I'm not going to be a landlord anymore. Because I can't, I can't get rent from my tenants. And eviction is extremely difficult.' Eviction is a remedy for people who refuse to pay rent. But now everything is being done to avoid eviction. Well, what does a landlord do? And that's the frustration I've heard from so many landlords."

Grimm also sees a potential problem with distribution of EPIC funds, county money, ending up mostly in the city of Albany. He says that would be "doubly unfair." Whatever the case, he thinks the resolution will have an adverse effect on the availability of apartments in the Albany area.

"Fewer landlords means fewer housing units," said Grimm. "They're not going to rent the duplex that they're living in on one side, they're not going to rent the third floor of their building, because it's too much of a hassle. So I think the answer is to be fair to both sides. Certainly there's concern about homelessness, regarding evictions. But homelessness is a multifaceted problem caused by a lot of different factors. But we've got to the point now, where we don't think people need to pay rent, and we've got to change that attitude, and we have to do it soon."

Supporters argue EPIC will prevent eviction and reduce the stress on the system.

Officials say as of November 11, nearly 4,000 evictions were filed in Albany County in 2022, 72 percent in the city. Currently nearly 2,000 tenants are at risk of eviction or one missed payment away from eviction due to “repayment agreements.”

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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