December 15, 2021 Joe Amditis

Rent relief: What Pakistanis in New Jersey need to know about the eviction moratorium

By Moshin Zaheer, Urdu News

This story was produced as part of a six-month COVID-19 reporting fellowship with NJ ethnic and community media organized by the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University. It has been updated and edited from its original version in Urdu.

 

Many Pakistani immigrants in New Jersey are not aware of the state’s aid program offered to renters hit by financial losses due to COVID-19, according to community leaders.

Because of a complicated application process, compounded by the lack of information in Urdu, Pakistani immigrants may not understand what to do or where to start, the leaders said.

Shama Haider, the first Pakistani American elected as state assemblywoman (District 37), which covers Teaneck and Tenafly, NJ, admitted that she does not even have an idea what rent relief program is available for Pakistanis and other immigrants.

“Honestly, I still have to take oath as assemblywoman, and I am still trying to get to know more and more about the issues of the community,” said Shama Haider, who was elected in November 2021. “There’s still a lot of things that we need to do to create awareness about these opportunities.”

Nusrat Suhail, a resident in central New Jersey, who teaches at a private school, agreed.

“The Pakistani community, especially during critical circumstances like the pandemic, should be informed about relief programs, such as the rental aid,” Suhail, who teaches at a private school in the state, said.

But now the window of the rental relief program, at least at the state level, is about to end (December 15, 2021). But in some NJ counties and municipalities, there is still time to apply for rent relief.

Lack of awareness and language barrier are the two major reasons why renters among the Pakistani community do not take advantage of rental aid opportunities.

“This needs to be changed,” Assemblywoman Haider added.

Here are the things that Pakistani immigrants need to know about New rental aid and the eviction moratorium in New Jersey:

  • On March 19, 2020, Gov. Phil Murphy issued Executive Order 106, which suspended evictions throughout the state. This is called an “eviction moratorium,” and it means that, except in rare circumstances, no tenant may be removed from his or her home as a result of an eviction proceeding.
  • On August 4, 2021, Gov. Murphy signed into law PL 2021 c 188 that affects tenants and landlords. That new law winds down the eviction moratorium imposed in Executive Order 106 and provides other protections to renter households who experienced economic hardship during the pandemic.
  • The eviction moratorium in New Jersey is about to end on December 15, 2021, and all applicants would be selected through a lottery. Newark’s application remains open through January 7, but Jersey City had already closed its application last October.
  • The new law provides protections at different household income levels. To ensure that your household benefits from these protections, you must complete the income self-certification form available at https://covid19.nj.gov/renter, through which applicants certify their income level.
  • The form also allows applicants to certify whether you had an economic impact from COVID-19, certify whether you have applied for rental assistance, and answer some additional questions, all of which will assist the government in providing you with assistance.
  • It is crucial to mention here that New Jersey adopted some of the strongest tenant protection measures — and one of the longest eviction moratoriums in the country. The state aims to keep the poorest housed through the end of the year and stave off a mass wave of homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The state eviction moratorium does not affect what rent is due. Tenants still owe the rent. The moratorium also does not stop court proceedings — instead, it prevents lockouts and removals. The New Jersey Supreme Court controls court proceedings related to evictions.
  • In response to urging by President Joe Biden on his first day in office, the CDC announced that it was extending the moratorium through March 31, 2021.
  • New Jersey tenants can generally ignore the CDC order for now because the state eviction moratorium, which is more protective than the CDC order, controls.
  • If you’re behind on rent and your income is below 80% of your county area median income (AMI), you can’t be evicted until after December 31, 2021 and this window is about to close now.
  • If your income is between 80-120% of your county AMI, the eviction freeze was lifted on August 31, 2021. However, there are other protections.
  • If you have unpaid rent between March 1, 2020, and August 31, 2021, you are permanently protected from eviction for unpaid rent, late rent, or failure to pay a rent increase during that period and that rent has been converted to civil debt (which means it will NOT be heard via cases in Landlord-Tenant Court)
  • If low-income families fill out a form and apply for rental aid, they can’t be evicted for having missed rent payments until after December 31, 2021.
  • There is also an additional $500 million in assistance for any renter below 120% of county AMI.
  • Only a fraction of those facing eviction filled out the paperwork that would protect them.
  • Even as New Jersey’s state rent relief program is paying landlords at one of the fastest rates in the country, counties and towns have been slow to release the federal aid they’ve received to help renters.
  • Some tenants have been illegally evicted during the pandemic.
  • Many people who qualify for state aid still find it hard to find affordable housing in a tight market, as well as landlords willing to accept the aid.
  • NJ courts face a backlog of nearly 55,000 pending eviction cases as of Nov. 3, according to the Administrative Office of the Courts.
  • Some advocates worry the money (NJ Eviction Protection Program) will run out soon. New Jersey paid close to $137 million for future rent payments to almost 34,000 families as of Oct. 7, according to the Department of Community Affairs.
  • If rental assistance payments don’t cover all the owed rent, landlords can sue for any remaining debt in civil court.
  • If a tenant misses a rent payment after Jan. 1, 2022, his or her landlord can file for eviction and the tenant could be removed from the home.

“Immigrants and people of color are impacted by eviction at a disproportionate rate in New Jersey,” said Renee Koubiadis, anti-poverty program director at New Jersey Citizen Action, at a recent briefing with ethnic media, organized by the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University.

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Photo caption: A man repairs a light on a beam behind an American flag that hangs over the factory floor. The factory is based in Paterson, New Jersey, and is manned primarily by immigrant workers. (Photo credit: Julian Rigg.)

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Joe Amditis

Joe Amditis is the associate director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University. He can be reached via email at amditisj@montclair.edu and on Twitter at @jsamditis.