A small group of protesters gathered outside Queens Housing Court on Wednesday, Aug. 31, to support Jamaica resident Allilsa Fernandez, who faces eviction after being shut out of federal aid during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fernandez made national headlines after becoming an example of how detrimental it can be to let people fall through the cracks of rental assistance programs. When the pandemic began in March 2020, Fernandez and her roommate lost their jobs. Their landlord raised their rent and, as they were unable to pay, eviction proceedings began.
Fernandez tried to access the rental assistance program put in place during the pandemic, but her landlord refused to participate.
Over $2 billion in rental assistance funds had been given to New York in the December 2020 coronavirus relief package and the American Rescue Plan. Tenants could request this relief through the Emergency Rental Relief Program (ERAP) application process, and eligible applicants receive up to a year’s worth of unpaid rent and utilities.
Under New York’s program, if landlords don’t sign on to this application, tenants cannot receive funds directly. Fernandez’s landlord claimed that she owed more than $20,000 in back rent and proceeded to try to evict her.
On Wednesday, Fernandez was called to court, mentioning the Good Cause Eviction Bill would have prevented this, barring significant rent increases for tenants.
“Good Cause prevents a landlord to abuse the system and use it as harassment,” Fernandez told QNS. “These landlords they exploited people throughout the pandemic; they took the opportunity to raise rents all of a sudden when folks were struggling the most.”
There was also a group in opposition to Fernandez present at court, sharing that the pandemic hurt them as well, and they struggle to pay for housing just like their tenants.
Julie Ye, who owns a house in Forest Hills, is currently living with her mother as she tries to evict her tenants, who she claims have not paid rent for 19 months.
ERAP received additional funds through the state budget this year and is still processing eligible applications.