Good morning. It’s Friday. Today we’ll look at New York’s eviction moratorium, which is about to expire. We’ll also look at the first comprehensive Sherlock Holmes exhibition in New York in more than 50 years.
The state eviction moratorium was a lifeline for tenants when their incomes dried up in the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic. Now the state is taking a risky step as Omicron-driven infections continue to surge: Officials are allowing the ban on evictions to expire on Saturday.
“It’s a moment of a lot of uncertainty and precariousness,” said Siya Hegde of Bronx Defenders, a nonprofit legal services group that has been representing tenants.
The concern reaches beyond housing court. Many officials and housing advocates worry that a rush of eviction cases could send New York’s precarious recovery in the wrong direction, and not just economically. There are also fears that crime and homelessness could edge up.
The numbers, which soared in 2020, remain staggering. The National Equity Atlas, a research tool that collates national economic data, estimated that 591,000 households in New York State are behind on rent and owe more than $1.97 billion. In New York City, households that are behind owe an average of about $3,500.
My colleague Mihir Zaveri writes that even before the pandemic, a quarter of the households in the city were severely cost-burdened, meaning that more than half their incomes went to rent and utilities. The pandemic only made things worse. The state has received more than 291,000 applications for rent relief since last summer.
The eviction crisis is a challenge for Gov. Kathy Hochul, who has made housing a centerpiece of her agenda as she prepares to run for a full term in November. She has been under pressure from landlords, who have lost enormous amounts of rental income during the pandemic and have complained that the moratorium was easily abused. She has also been criticized by left-leaning Democrats for letting the moratorium run out before new eviction safeguards were ready.
Hochul said this week she that she was talking with state lawmakers about next steps. She and three other Democratic governors — Gov. Philip Murphy of New Jersey, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California and Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois — wrote to the federal government, seeking more rent relief for states like theirs with large concentrations of renters.
What to do after the eviction moratorium expires is only one of the challenges Hochul faces. Another is working with the Legislature in Albany.
She has promised a “new era” of collaboration with lawmakers. In outlining an expansive policy agenda — a wish list that she cannot push toward reality without them — she said last week that “the days of governors disregarding the rightful role of this Legislature are over.” She will release her budget proposals next week.
My colleagues Luis Ferré-Sadurní and Grace Ashford write that Hochul’s priorities are in sync with those of the Democratic leadership, but the new Legislature could be more recalcitrant than the last. She will have to deal with progressives who were elected last year after upsetting entrenched incumbents. The newcomers could nudge Hochul, a moderate, toward the left.
It’s January, always a time for optimism in Albany, and for now, most Democratic lawmakers appear to want to minimize their differences. But it is already clear that there are differences Hochul will have to bridge. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic majority leader in the State Senate, has said that “it’s time for us to make universal, affordable child care a reality.” Hochul stopped short of going that far. Her version would target 100,000 low-income families.
Another Hochul proposal that may run into turbulence: term limits for statewide elected officials. Carl Heastie, the Assembly speaker, has expressed reservations about the idea.
It’s a partly sunny day, with wind gusts persisting into the night. Temps will rise into the 40s by late morning and drop to the mid-30s toward evening. At night, the sky is mostly clear with temps below the 20s.
In effect until Monday (Martin Luther King Jr. Day).
For survivors of the Bronx fire, frustration
A group of tenants, joined by religious leaders, gathered outside the Bronx apartment building that was devastated by a smoky fire on Sunday, saying they were being pressed to return home too soon. Community activists representing them also expressed frustration that donations were not reaching the residents.
Of the 120 apartments, the city has said that only 35 are not habitable. Residents like Mabintou Tunkara, who lives in one of the other 85 apartments, do not want to go back.
“Everyone is covered with smoke,” she said. “Everything.”
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Not so elementary
For me, one of the takeaways from the interview I did about a new Sherlock Holmes exhibition was that Holmes was so famous that he was pictured on books that were not about him.
One was “Escaped From Sing Sing,” with an image of a pipe-smoking man on the cover. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who created Holmes, visited the infamous Sing Sing prison in Ossining, N.Y., in 1914. Conan Doyle was even briefly locked in a cell. He said it was “the most restful time I have had since I arrived in New York, for it was the only chance I had to get away from reporters.”
I learned this from Glen Miranker, a former Apple executive who collects Holmesiana — items about Holmes, Watson and Conan Doyle. He owns more than 7,000 books, illustrations and letters. He has distilled them for “Sherlock Holmes in 221 Objects,” an exhibition at the Grolier Club, 47 East 60th Street in Manhattan.
Conan Doyle may well have been relieved to get away from reporters at Sing Sing. They certainly followed his every move during an evening at that noisy playground by the ocean, Coney Island, where The New York Times reported that he “saw everything that was to be seen and did many of the things for which Coney is famous.” It was a bit much: “Coney Island doesn’t give one time to think,” he said.
Miranker’s enthusiasm for Holmes and Conan Doyle, reflected in the exhibition, ranges from pages of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” to handwritten letters from Conan Doyle. And there is a copy of “The Sign of the Four,” the second of the four Holmes novels.
There seemed to be a mystery about that book: Why did Conan Doyle sign it?
It was a pirated edition. Conan Doyle hated pirated editions, which paid authors nothing.
Inside the front cover was another signature, that of H.N. Higinbotham, a Chicago magnate who had been a friend of Abraham Lincoln (and who died after being hit by an ambulance on Madison Avenue in Manhattan). Higinbotham also wrote out the date — Oct. 12, 1894, the day he gave a dinner party for Conan Doyle.
Miranker concluded that Higinbotham ran out and “bought the first Conan Doyle book he could find” — and asked him to sign it.
What we’re reading
Not to be missed
I was walking through SoHo when I noticed a crowd in front of the Crosby Street Hotel. I asked a young couple who they were waiting for.
We don’t know, they said, explaining that they had seen the crowd and had decided to wait, too.
I asked how long they had been waiting.
About 30 minutes, they told me.
“You have been waiting for 30 minutes for someone you don’t know?” I asked.
“Yes,” one of them said. “It might be a celebrity.”
I walked a few feet and saw a woman standing with what appeared to be her two teenage daughters.
“Who are you waiting for?” I asked her.
“We don’t know,” the woman said. “We saw the crowd and decided to wait. It could be someone famous.”
“How long have you been waiting?” I asked.
“Maybe about 40 minutes or so,” the woman said. “Not really sure.”
At that point, the hotel’s doors opened, but only for the doorman to make sure the crowd wasn’t blocking the entrance.
Walking a little farther down the block, I noticed a man sitting in a car.
“Are you waiting, too?” I asked him.
“You bet!” he said.
“But you don’t know who it is?”
“Don’t care, as it could be somebody,” he said.
“And if it’s somebody,” he added, “I don’t want to miss it.”
— Jeanne McAuliffe