Calling on the Department of Health to Keep the Courts Closed!

Dear Dr. Zucker: 

We are facing an unprecedented public health crisis. In the last four months, over 22,000 New York City residents, overwhelmingly low-income people of color, have died from COVID-19. The loss of human life alone is overwhelming, and instead of having the time to grieve and recover, New Yorkers are worried about whether they will have a roof over their heads next week. On June 22, Housing Court reopened to allow landlords to file new eviction proceedings by mail. Although the eviction moratorium has been extended another month, the governor’s office removed the protections for tenants who have experienced hardship due to COVID-19. This short term planning and the reversals of policy leaves New Yorkers without any sense of security, and if evictions move forward, potentially without a home to stay in to protect them and the public from COVID-19.

In the name of public health and safety, we are asking the Department of Health to join us in preventing yet another humanitarian crisis from hitting our communities. As a nation, we were not prepared for a pandemic of this magnitude and our response was inadequate. As is so well documented in New York, COVID-19 has disproportionately devastated poor Black and Brown communities.  These same communities are also hit hardest by evictions.  Although we now have a greater understanding of the health crisis and how to prevent it, the state government and the courts continue to provide short term measures rather than long term proactive solutions. The short term, monthly extensions of the eviction moratorium create an incredible amount of anxiety and stress for the tens of thousands of New Yorkers facing lawsuits and evictions. The Department of Health’s mission is to “protect and promote the health, productivity, and well-being of all New Yorkers.” In a time where the most effective way to prevent the spread of disease is to stay at home, we are asking the DOH to recognize the critical and direct role that housing plays in protecting New Yorkers’ health. 

We are asking the DOH to take immediate action in the following ways: 

  1. Conduct a full inspection of all courts where evictions happen across the state to determine the current conditions in each courthouse and to assess firsthand the dangers represented by the physical layout of each court.
  2. Conduct a full investigation and interpret the data on the impact of evictions on public health. This is necessary information for the state to have in order to understand the consequences of the decisions that are being made, including the disparate impact a reopening of housing court and resumption of evictions may have on low income communities of color hit hardest by COVID-19. 
  3. Demand that the Office of Court Administration close housing courts and maintain the indefinite and universal moratorium on evictions across the state while this investigation is being conducted. 

As a state, we are at a pivotal moment in history. The horror of this pandemic has violently revealed our shortcomings as a society.  In New York State, the housing crisis IS a public health crisis.  We implore the DOH to use its power and leadership to compel government officials to prioritize the health and safety of all our communities in their policies and practices. 

Given that eviction trials are scheduled to start in Brooklyn at the end of the month and the moratorium will potentially be lifted in early August, this is an urgent request.