June 11, 2021

A Year into the Pandemic: Taking Stock in the Bronx

by UNHP

Last June UNHP published a blog entitled “Bronx Reality before Covid is Manifesting Devastating and Deadly Consequences” looking at the significant impact of COVID-19 in the Bronx. In 2020 the Bronx had the highest case rates in the city, as well as the highest unemployment rate. As NYC turned to remote school and work, the digital divide in the Bronx left many unconnected. Bronx neighborhoods have the highest concentration of households without a broadband connection - a service that has only become more important as many continue to work and learn from home. In this post, we will take stock of the larger economic effects of the pandemic on the Bronx as the city quickly moves towards reopening and share some of the stories from our community. This post is the third in our three-part A year into Covid Series which looks at how UNHP’s multifamily portfolio has fared as well as the state of the multifamily housing market as a whole. The NYS Comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli recently released a detailed report looking at the effects of COVID-19 in the Bronx that you can read here.

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

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Source: NYC Health

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, but during a pandemic and with the growth of Montefiore medical services in the Bronx - a near impossibility.

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UNHP and three other Bronx non-profits have been working to get in-network benefits restored to those who use Montefiore Health System and have insurance with United Healthcare. Our organizations are all affected - as well as 60,000 other Bronx residents. We chose to focus a campaign around Mother’s day as the largest complaint we received from working Mothers on staff was that their families could no longer use pediatricians that they had come to trust. The Daily News and City Limits highlighted the issue and City Limits did this follow-up.

Despite being the hardest hit borough early on in the pandemic, the Bronx is 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.

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Source: NYC Health

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.

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Source: NYC Health

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 to navigate 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. The Gothamist did a recent article about areas with the lowest vaccination rates and the neighborhoods we work in are among them. Bronx groups are working to help residents get vaccinated. Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation has hosted successful vaccine drives in their large affordable-housing complexes at Serviam and West Farms Square. In April, Part of the Solution (POTS) hosted the NYC vaccination bus on Webster Ave and was able to vaccinate 350 Bronxites in two days.

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Part of the Solution (POTS), a Bronx nonprofit and multiservice provider organized the NYC vaccine bus outside of their busy food pantry, social service, and meals-to-go location in the northwest Bronx. Despite low vaccination rates in the Bronx, POTS was able to vaccinate 350 people in two days. Bringing the vaccines to where people are made a difference. UNHP is proud to partner with POTS to exchange and increase services for the people in our community.

Unemployment

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%.

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Source: DOL

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.

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Source: 2020 State of Our Immigrant City

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 and childcare. Over half of New Yorkers working in child daycare services are foreign-born. Fordham Bedford Community Services (FBCS) runs a large home-based family childcare network that serves 50 daycare providers, and in turn over 300 young children in their early learning program funded by the Department of Education(DOE). All programs were forced to shut down for two weeks once Covid hit and allowed to reopen to serve working families and essential workers in early April 2020. The DOE maintained ongoing childcare payments based on the number of children in care as of March 2020 and through August 2020. Balancing fear, safety, and the need to make a living, Bronx daycare workers did what they could to keep safe and still serve Bronx families when they could reopen. While some FBCS daycare providers reopened in early April, others afraid for the safety of their family members chose to provide early learning remotely or waited to reopen until September. The childcare payments made available during the two-week shutdown helped the providers, but the pandemic put constraints on taking care of additional children safely- so in most cases, daycare provider income was reduced and limited. Caitlin Knipper, Director of the FBCS program says “Daycare providers work very hard for little pay - while I was happy the City continued to pay providers during the shut-down, it was a very stress-filled time for daycare providers who provide that care in their homes. Covid-19 safety protocols, remote options for learning and health concerns added to the many educational, regulation, and family demands that providers strive to meet every day.” The pictures and stories of two child care educators that reopened in early April 2020 are highlighted below.

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Fatou is a Bronx home-based daycare provider through the Fordham Bedford Community Services Family Childcare Network. Fatou was very frightened when she had to shut down her program for two weeks in March of 2020 due to Covid. Not only did she run her daycare business in her three-bedroom apartment, but it was home for herself and six children. ” I cleaned and I cleaned.” While she was unsure if she should reopen once child care services were reinstated, she also had to earn a living. FBCS provided remote training and support and Fatou separated items for daycare use and family use and instituted a strict cleaning regimen of toys and materials used by each. “I lived in a state of fear and prayer. I wanted to keep the children well, I prayed that their families would be well, and I wanted to stay well and for my family to stay well.” Working parents trusted Fatou with the care of their children and a year later her program is open, provides early childhood care and school readiness for six children and there were no positive cases of Covid in her program or her family- an answer to Fatou’s prayers.
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Katiuska Morel, a Bronx small business owner, was able to retool The Larimar Center during the pandemic to provide in-person educational assistance to the children of essential workers. Katiuska says, ” I saw the need for supervised educational help for parents who were essential workers. Children need support with remote learning.” Funding for this care was offered via the CARES ACT, and Katiuska assisted parents to apply for the support. Students would attend the Larimar Center on remote days and the after-school program on days that they were in school. “Remote learning has been very hard on kids,” says Katiuska ” I was happy I could help kids stay engaged and keep up and still have time to be kids.” She is also happy that the program was not in her home, where the health of her family could have been at risk. The Larimar Center is located in a Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation property and the Center has access to a backyard. “Every day the kids took breaks outside and we went for walks at lunch - even with masks, it was a way to be normal” The Larimar Center is open and enrolling school-age children for their summer program.

While daycare providers in publicly-supported programs received some support as Covid-19 hit, 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.

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Source: The Failures of the PPP in NYC

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 work at least part-time.

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Bronx street businesses have grown significantly over the past year. With the documented loss of jobs, as well as a reduction in household income, industrious Bronxites, many of whom are immigrants, are hitting the streets to make ends meet. Street car-washes, food stands, fruit stands, and more line the streets of the borough.

Hopefully, the passing of the Excluded Workers Fund will bring some relief to these immigrant 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 Bronx tenants 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.

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Source: OCA data via NYCDB

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 was just opened up on June 1, 2021, out of 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. UNHP welcomes the ERAP rent relief and is working with tenants in our own portfolio to apply to the program. We do foresee many hurdles in terms of the information and tech requirements required from tenants.

Overall, the Bronx continues to grapple with the trauma 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, and the digital divide to name just a few of the issues. Time will tell if the relief programs will be administered in such a way that Bronx families and individuals who need help are able to access it. We mentioned many non-profits in this post, POTS, Fordham Bedford, Make the Road, Mercy Center - these are just a few of the groups and community institutions that will continue to stand with and by Bronx residents, as we make our way forward to an equitable thriving City and a Bronx that provides opportunity, and support for all its residents.

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