Last June we published a blog looking at some of the larger effects of COVID-19 in the Bronx. This was during a time when the Bronx had the highest case rates in the city, as well as the highest unemployment rate. We highlighted the issue of the digital divide in the Bronx - many of the neighborhoods with the highest concentration of households without a broadband connection are within the borough - which has only become more important as many continue to work and learn from home. In this post we will attempt to once again take stock of the larger economic effects of the pandemic on the Bronx as the city quickly moves towards reopening. You can check out the other blogs in this series of updates which look at how UNHP’s multifamily portfolio has fared as well as the state of the multifamily housing market as a whole.
Case Rates and Vaccinations
New York City has had record low case rates, hospitalizations, and deaths recently. The Bronx no longer has the highest case rate, but it does have the highest rates of hospitalizations and deaths
HOSP AND DEATHS
Importantly, the Hispanic/Latino community continues to have the highest rate of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths throughout the city. In May, Make the Road released a report on the impact of the pandemic on immigrant communities. In a survey of predominantly Latinx individuals, they found that one out of six had lost a family member to COVID-19. They also found that while three out of five respondents or someone in their household had been sick since March 1st, less than half had received the needed medical attention. This hits home for us in the Bronx, especially now when United Healthcare (UHC) and Montefiore have severed their relationship. This change means that an estimated 60,000 individuals, many in the Bronx, will have to find new care providers who are in network - a challenging task even in the best of times.
Despite being the hardest hit borough early on in the pandemic, the Bronx has been somewhat left behind in the vaccination push. As of June 7th, 52% of NYC residents had received one dose and 45% were fully vaccinated. However only 43% of Bronx residents had received the first dose and only 36% had been fully vaccinated - the lowest rates amongst the five boroughs.
Predominantly wealthy and white neighborhoods in Manhattan where case rates were lower have much higher vaccination rates than the hard hit neighborhoods in the Bronx. For example, in zip codes 10075 and 10162 in the Upper East Side, nearly 73% of residents have been fully vaccinated. However, in zip code 10460 , including parts of Tremont and West Farms, in the Bronx only 31% of residents are fully vaccinated.
While the rollout of vaccines was widely criticized in the beginning for its lack of foresight, improvements have been made. In the beginning many residents, especially seniors, struggled navigating the multiple websites used for scheduling or got stuck on hold trying to book an appointment over the phone. However, now New Yorkers age 16 and up can walk-in to all city run vaccination sites, and just over 50% of all New Yorkers have been vaccinated. Brons groups are working to help residents get vaccinated. In April, Part of the Solution (POTS) hosted a vaccination bus on Webster Ave and was able to vaccinate 350 Bronxites in two days.
The unemployment rate has remained high in NYC - 10.8% as of April. As of March 27th, over 2.5 million New Yorkers have claimed unemployment since the pandemic began. The Bronx has the highest unemployment rate of the five boroughs at 15%. This is an improvement from the peak of nearly 25% in May of 2020, but still significantly higher than the 2019 annual average rate of 5.3%.
Immigrant communities have experienced a disproportionately high rate of unemployment. A June study by the Center for Urban Future found that half of NYC’s immigrant population - 3 million people according to the 2020 State of Our Immigrant City report - were unemployed. About 35% of the Bronx’s population are immigrants - roughly 16% of NYC’s total immigrant population - and 6.4% of the Bronx’s population is undocumented.
In their May report, Make the Road found that 92% of survey respondents’ households experienced the loss of jobs and income, but that only 5% of respondents received unemployment benefits in the past month.
Foreign-born individuals are highly represented in many industries that were largely impacted by the pandemic such as restaurants. Over half of New Yorkers working in child day care services are foreign born. While it was not possible to safely operate day care centers, the city provided grants to providers to help them weather the drop in income. However, the restaurants and other food services did not receive the same support. It was possible for businesses to apply for PPP loans which were meant to help cover payroll and overhead costs while quarantine was in effect, but many smaller businesses struggled to access these funds. In the Bronx, only 38% of eligible businesses in the restaurant industry received a PPP loan.
To make matters worse, a large percentage of this population is excluded from public benefits due to citizenship status or lack of unemployment insurance. A June study by the Center for Urban Future interviewed two organizations that work in the Bronx. Masa, an organization working in the South Bronx, reported that 90% of the people they serve have lost their primary income and are food insecure. The Immigrant Services program at Mercy Center reported that 75% of their clients lost their primary source of income. In January Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing released a study focusing on NYC street vendors. Among the individuals interviewed, they found that by June only 26% had returned to working at least part time.
Hopefully the passing of the Excluded Workers Fund will bring some relief to these communities. The fund will be able to distribute $2.1 billion in aid through the Department of Labor to workers who experienced unemployment or a loss in income but were ineligible for other government aid due to their immigration status.. Individuals will be sorted into two tiers when determining payment amounts. In order to qualify for the $15,600 available to Tier 1 workers need to provide an ITIN or other forms that prove their prior employment. Workers who do not have an ITIN and cannot prove prior employment will fall into Tier 2 and receive a much smaller $3,200. This tier system may prevent some from getting the aid they are entitled to as there may be concerns about data privacy. Additionally, to receive aid, applicants must show that they made less than $26,208 in the past year. The Department of Labor is not currently accepting applications, but they have posted information about eligibility and required documents so that individuals can prepare their application materials.
Importantly, women have also been especially hard hit by the economic fallout of COVID-19. Women are more likely than men to hold low-wage jobs - in 2018 nearly half of all working women had jobs with median earnings of $10.93. Hospitality and retail sales - two common sectors for women earning low wages to work in - were heavily impacted by shutdowns. Roughly 46% of households in the Bronx are headed by women; 12% of Bronx households are headed by single mothers.
Overall many Bronxites have overlapping identities which have both deepened and lengthened the impact of the pandemic throughout the borough. Communities of color, immigrants, and women need support and increased access to unemployment pay as they were disproportionately represented among job losses.
Rent Payments / Evictions
Many Bronxites continue to live in fear of eviction. Throughout the crisis, large numbers of evictions have been prevented by short term eviction moratoriums and last minute extensions. To read more about the various protections that have been in place throughout the course of the pandemic, click here. The current - and most inclusive - NYC moratorium is the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act. The Act stays residential evictions until August 31st for tenants who submit a declaration of hardship. Once this Act expires, some tenants - those facing a non-payment case filed after the start of the pandemic - will have continued protection under the Tenant Safe Harbor Act.
According to OCA data, there have been over 17,000 eviction cases filed in the Bronx since Housing Court first closed just over a year ago on March 16th. While the majority of these have been non-payment cases, over 2,000 of them are holdover cases. Once the Emergency Eviction Act expires, these tenants will be vulnerable to eviction. Additionally, the amount sought by landlords in non-payment cases is much higher than normal. The median claim amount in the Bronx is just over $5,000. While tenants in non-payment cases will continue to have protection from being physically evicted until the end of the pandemic under the Tenant Safe Harbor Act, they do not have protection from the unpaid back rent that has accrued throughout the crisis.
Rent Relief Programs
So far there have been two rounds of rent relief, both have largely failed to sufficiently distribute aid to New Yorkers who need it. The first round accepted applications through August 6th and distributed $40 million in total - about $4 million going to residents in the Bronx. The second round, which no longer required applicants to have been rent burdened before the pandemic, accepted applications through February 1st. While there was $60 million of aid available, only 12% or $7 million was distributed. According to state housing officials, the most common reason for denial was that income eligibility was determined during a period where many were receiving increased funds due to the addition of the $600 weekly federal payments to state unemployment.
A new round of rent relief will be coming since the passage of the state budget on April 7th in the form of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). The program can distribute over $2 billion to landlords that accept the aid. Tenants and landlords can apply for coverage for up to 12 months of arrears from March 13th 2020. Rent burdened households, those paying 30% or more of their income towards rent, can receive an additional three months of aid. Some utility arrears can also be covered by the ERAP.
In order to apply, tenants will need to provide proof of identity for all household members, proof of their rental amount as well as occupancy, and proof of their income. Upon accepting the money, landlords will not be able to increase rent or evict the tenant for one year. If the landlord refuses to accept the aid, tenants will be able to use their refusal as a defense in court. Preference will be given to tenants for the first 30 days of the program who are at 50% AMI or below as well as those who live in a disproportionately affected community. To see the AMI ranges for different household sizes in NYC click here.
The Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance has updated their website with the program’s eligibility and required documents, and opened applications on June 1st. Bronx residents can contact BronxWorks and the Neighborhood Association for Inter-Cultural Affairs for assistance submitting applications to the program.
Overall, the Bronx continues to grapple with the challenges of the pandemic. While cases are dropping and vaccinations are increasing, we must address the long-standing inequities that have been exacerbated - high rent burdens, overcrowding, lack of access to healthcare, etc. Time will tell if the relief programs will be administered in such a way that Bronxites who need help are able to access it. UNHP will continue to advocate for Bronxites and work to connect them with services and resources to help build stability.