Week CXLV: Albany County launches pilot program to help tenants facing eviction

— Map from NYSDOL
Overall, upstate has lower unemployment rates than downstate New York.

ALBANY COUNTY — With the start of winter, COVID cases are ticking up and the federal government is once again offering free at-home tests — four to a household.

Albany County has returned to a “medium” community level after two weeks of being designated “low” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At the same time, as the state’s labor force continues to decrease, Albany County this week launched a pilot program to help tenants facing eviction.


Help for tenants

Albany County is investing $160,000 in the Eviction Prevention and Intervention Collaborative, known as EPIC, that will help county residents facing eviction with legal assistance, referrals, and information.

The legislature approved funding the pilot program on Dec. 19 and is working with the Legal Aid Society, United Tenants of Albany, and Albany Law School.

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

With over 700 people already facing housing insecurity in Albany County, the goal of EPIC is to prevent eviction and reduce the stress on the system.

“Eviction prevention and intervention efforts can help to reduce the housing crisis that has been exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Albany County Legislature Chairman Andrew Joyce in a release from his office, which supplied the numbers on evictions.

Once established, the EPIC program will work with residents whose households fall at or below 50 percent of the annual median income. The highest priority will be to households below the poverty guidelines for legal representation. Residents will go through a screening process to ensure that those most at risk are getting legal services.

Services will include, but are not limited to, eviction defense; assistance in transitioning to new permanent housing; referrals for community partners, mediation, financial assistance and other programs; and assistance in litigations and appeals.

The $160,000 from the county legislature is part of a $320,000 total investment that will be used for attorneys at the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York; an eviction intervention specialist to connect tenants with available resources through United Tenants Association; and to aid Albany Law School in its efforts to train court advocates and represent select tenants.

“As the economy continues a slow recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more low-income households are sliding into poverty and instability,” said Nic Rangel, executive director of the Legal Aid Society, in the release. “Low wages and inflation, combined with rising rents and higher interest rates, are making housing costs even more unaffordable.

Rangel went on to say that, as state and federal funding is dropping, evictions are climbing. “It is critical, now more than ever, to ensure people facing eviction have access to legal services and assistance to protect their rights and access resources to keep them in their homes,” said Rangel.

“While 94 percent of landlords appear at Albany civil court with an attorney, a paltry 1.3 percent of tenants appear with any form of representation,” said Canyon Ryan, executive director of United Tenants of Albany, in the release. “This disparity results in unjust displacement and turns landlord-tenant court into nothing more than an ‘eviction mill.’ EPIC will remediate some of this disparity and offer a significant number of low-income tenants a skilled negotiator and a sense of dignity.” 


Labor report

This week, the state’s labor department released its monthly report with employment figures, which showed the state’s labor force, seasonally adjusted, decreased by 1,000. 

Earlier this month, the state’s comptroller released a report showing that New York, with one of the country’s largest workforces, continued to lose workers in 2021 when the rest of the nation began to recover.

Even as New York’s workforce began growing in 2022, it is still 400,000 workers below the state’s December 2019 peak, the report says.

According to the preliminary seasonally adjusted figures released this week by the labor department, the number of private-sector jobs in the state increased over the month by 19,600, or 0.2 percent, to 8,080,900 in November 2022.

The number of private-sector jobs in the United States also increased by 0.2 percent in November 2022.

New York State’s private-sector jobs, not seasonally adjusted, increased by 281,000, or 3.6 percent, over the year in November 2022, which exceeded the 3.5-percent increase in the number of private-sector jobs in the U.S.

    New York’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate held constant at 4.3 percent in November 2022. At the same time, the state’s labor force decreased by 1,000 so the labor force participation rate held constant at 60.5 percent in November 2022.

New York City’s unemployment rate held steady at 5.8 percent. Outside of New York City, the unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.3 percent.

The number of unemployed New Yorkers decreased over the month by 300, from 413,600 in October to 413,300 in November 2022.

In the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area, nonfarm jobs increased by 8,800 or 1.9 percent and private-sector jobs increased by 9,600 or 2.7 percent.

The leisure and hospitality industry saw the biggest percentage increase in jobs statewide, at 9 percent, or 71,700 jobs.

The unemployment rate for the same Albany-Schenectady-Troy area went from 2.9 percent in November 2021 to 2.4 percent this past November.

For Albany County, the unemployment rate for November 2022 was 2.5 percent, not seasonally adjusted. The Bronx had the highest unemployment rate at 7.,4 percent and Saratoga County had the lowest rate at 2.1 percent for November 2022.

Employment in Albany County, from November 2021 to this past November was up 3.5 percent and unemployment went from 3.0 percent last November to 2.5 percent this November, a decrease of 0.5 percent.


Albany County COVID numbers

This week, Albany County has returned to a “medium” designation from the CDC for its community level of COVID-19.

For the prior two weeks it had a “low” designation following four weeks of being labeled “medium” after 13 weeks of being labeled “high.”

Also this week, Albany County’s 145th of dealing with the coronavirus, three new COVID-related deaths were reported by the governor’s office: one was reported on Monday and two were reported on Tuesday. The county’s dashboard, as of Tuesday, Dec. 20, still shows a death toll of 605: 294 males and 311 females.

Last week, the counties surrounding Albany were, like Albany County, all designated as having “low” community levels. This week, neighboring Schoharie, Greene, and Columbia counties are still designated “low” while contiguous Schenectady, Saratoga, and Rensselaer counties are, like Albany, designated “medium.”

The weekly metrics the CDC used to determine the current “medium” level for Albany County are:

— Albany County now has a case rate of about 81 per 100,000 of population, down from 90 last week but up from 69 two weeks ago,  51 three weeks ago, and 76 four weeks ago although down from 104 five weeks ago;

— The county has a COVID hospital admission rate of 15.8 per 100,000, nearly double 8.2 last week and also up from 9.1 two weeks ago and about 14.6 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior; and

— The county has 5.5 percent of its staffed hospital beds filled with COVID patients, up slightly from 5 last week, 5.1 two weeks ago, and 5.2 three weeks ago, but down from 5.7 four weeks ago, and 6.3 five weeks ago.

Nationwide, about 9 percent of counties are still labeled “high,” while about 35 percent are still “medium,” up from 25 percent two weeks and 18 percent the week before, and about 56 percent are still “low,” down from 69 two weeks ago and 78 percent the week before.

In New York State, about half of the counties, 24, are labeled “low,” followed by 27 labeled “medium.” Counties on Long Island and in New York City have “high” designations as do Orange, Putnam, Westchester, and Rockland counties.

As of Dec. 20, according to Albany County’s COVID dashboard, 30 patients were hospitalized with COVID, up from 24 last week.

About 54 percent of the Capital Region residents hospitalized with COVID this week were not admitted because of having the virus, according to a chart from the governor’s office; that’s up from 47 last week and 33 the week before.

Although figures on infection rates are no longer reliable since tracing and tracking systems have been disbanded, the state dashboard shows that cases statewide and in Albany County are continuing to tick up after leveling off in November following two months of climbing.

Albany County, as a seven-day average, now has 12.0 cases per 100,000 of population, up from 10.9 last week but down from 13.5 two weeks ago. The current rate, though, is up from 8.6 three weeks ago, 8.0 four weeks ago, and 10.6 five weeks ago but down from 15.2 six weeks ago, which was a fairly steady decrease from 21.8 cases per 100,000 nineteen weeks ago.

This compares with 28.3 cases per 100,000 statewide, which up slightly from 27.8 last week but down slightly from 28.5 two weeks ago although up from 18.4 three weeks ago, 19.0 four weeks ago, 18.8 five weeks ago, and 20.9 six weeks ago, which was another fairly steady decrease from and from 30.03 per 100,000 of population 16 weeks ago.

The lowest rates are in the Mohawk Valley at 10.54 cases per 100,000, which is up from last week’s Western New York at 10.24 and Central New York’s low of 9.3 two weeks ago and 6.58three weeks ago.

The highest count is still on Long Island at 44.67, up from 42.77 last week and 44.7 two weeks ago, which was a dramatic jump from 23.93 three weeks before.

The numbers for vaccination in Albany County have hardly budged for several months. The state’s dashboard now reports on these two categories:

— People with a primary series, for those who have completed the recommended initial series of a given COVID-19 vaccine product — two doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine; and

— People who are up to date, for those who have completed all COVID-19 vaccinations, including the bivalent booster, as appropriate per age and clinical recommendations.

As of Tuesday, 18.5 percent percent of Albany County residents were up to date on vaccines, up from 17.9 last week, as opposed to the 61.5 percent of eligible residents who had received booster shots, as reported in prior weeks.

At the same time, 76 percent of county residents have completed a primary series, the same as last week.

This compares with 76.2 percent of New Yorkers statewide completing a vaccination series, and 11.7 percent being up to date with vaccinations, up from 11.1 last week and 10.6 the week before.

The shift in the prevalence of Omicron sublineages has continued this week.

The once-dominant BA.5 now makes up about 10 percent of new COVID cases nationwide, with BQ.1.1 at about 38 percent and BQ.1 at about 31 percent.

In Region 2 — New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands — the spread of the new sublineages is even more pronounced.

For the week between Dec. 11 and 17, BA.5 now makes up just roughly 10 percent of the cases while BQ.1.1 is now dominant at roughly 37 percent followed by BQ.1.1 at about 34 percent.

XBB is third at 12.5 percent followed by BF.7, which makes up about 3 percent; the other sublineages each make less than 3 percent.

The bivalent booster shot was designed to combat BA.4, which is now almost nonexistent, and BA.5 — and so may still be effective against its similarly highly contagious descendants.

New Yorkers are being encouraged by the state’s health department to get bivalent COVID-19 vaccine boosters from Pfizer-BioNTech for anyone age 5 or older and from Moderna for those 6 or older.

To schedule an appointment for a booster, New Yorkers are to contact their local pharmacy, county health department, or healthcare provider; visit vaccines.gov; text their ZIP code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233 to find nearby locations.


Food help

New Yorkers enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, will receive the maximum allowable level of food benefits for December, the governor’s office announced this week. Households that formerly would have received a monthly supplement of less than $95, will receive a supplement of at least $95. 

All households participating in SNAP, including those already at the maximum level of benefits, will receive a supplemental allotment this month, resulting in a roughly $234 million infusion of federal funding into the New York State economy.

“These additional benefits have continued to help struggling New Yorkers keep themselves and their families fed throughout the pandemic and now in the face of higher grocery prices due to global inflation,” Governor Kathy Hochul said in a statement.  

New Yorkers continue to rely heavily on SNAP, with more than 1.6 million households, including more than 2.8 million New Yorkers, throughout the state enrolled in the program in October, the governor’s office said, adding that, while SNAP recipients statewide were flat compared to September,

Every federal dollar invested by SNAP generates up to $1.54 in economic activity, according to a federal study quantifying the impact of SNAP on the U.S. economy.

About 14 percent of the state’s population relied on SNAP benefits last year, according to a recent study. More than half of recipient households were families with children and about 48 percent included an adult over the age of 55 or a person with a disability.

New Yorkers interested in enrolling can check their SNAP eligibility, as well as apply online, by visiting mybenefits.ny.gov.

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