Housing Justice for All Rally

Housing Justice for All

Members of Housing Justice for All rally in Albany. Their request for dramatic action in the face of the Coronavirus crisis dovetails with a long-term push for deeper housing aid and reforms.

UPDATED 3/20/20: Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday that New York State will waive some mortgage payments, along with other financial services, for the next 90 days starting March 19. The state Department of Financial Services (DFS) will be responsible for executing the governor’s executive order, which requires mortgage servicers to waive mortgage payments based on financial hardship, halt negative reporting to credit bureaus, ban late payment fees or online payment fees, offer a grace period for loan modification and postpone or suspend foreclosures.

Additionally, Cuomo has asked DFS to instruct state-chartered banks to waive ATM fees, late fees, overdraft fees and fees for credit cards for New Yorkers.

“We know what we have to do to contain the spread of this virus – reduce density and person to person contact – and based on new facts we are getting every day, we’re taking further steps to keep more New Yorkers at home while keeping essential services running,” Cuomo said. “At the same time, we know there is going to be an economic impact across the state and we are taking new actions to support the thousands of New Yorkers and small businesses who are suffering. It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be disruptive, but we will get through this together.”

Housing advocates have called on the city and state to develop a $10 billion relief package that includes a moratorium on rent, mortgage and utility payments to abate financial strain on New York households amid the growing economic impact of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Housing Justice for All, a statewide coalition, also wants the rehousing of every homeless individual using emergency rent assistance and in vacant homes. The risk of viral spread through the homeless shelter system and among the street homeless has been a major concern throughout the public-health emergency.

Growing concerns

Major steps already have been taken to buffer COVID-19’s shocks to the city’s housing market.

Last week, the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) and 29 building owners and managers announced a 90-day commitment to halt issuing housing removals—unless for “criminal or negligent behavior”— in response to the crisis. 

On Monday, New York State courts halted all evictions until further notice.

On Wednesday, the Trump administration announced it was authorizing the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to implement an immediate foreclosure and eviction moratorium for single-family homeowners with FHA-insured mortgages over the next 60 days.

Given the unknown depth and length of the crisis, however, advocates are pushing for stronger action.

“Housing is healthcare. An eviction moratorium is the first step, but right now it’s critical that every New Yorker is safely housed, especially those who are currently without homes or most in danger of losing their homes due to loss of income,” read a statement by Housing Justice for All released Wednesday. “We are calling on Governor Cuomo and state legislative leaders to implement an immediate rent suspension of rent, mortgage, and utility payments, a full moratorium on evictions, and investment in safe, affordable housing for every New Yorker.” 

“Working people across New York State are facing lay-offs and struggling to pay rent and buy basic necessities. This problem will not disappear once the threat of COVID-19 has passed, and the eviction moratorium is lifted. Forgiving rent and mortgage debt accumulated during this period will help keep New Yorkers in their homes and stabilize our economy and our state.” 

Examples overseas

Housing Justice For All has put out a petition for New Yorkers to sign in order to garner support for the relief package. According to Cea Weaver, the Housing Justice for All Campaign Coordinator, the idea came after both Italy and France announced similar plans. 

After 60 million people went under mandatory quarantine, Italian officials announced it would work with banks to suspend mortgage payments for Italian households. French officials announced they would suspend payments of rent, utilities and taxes and have its national bank guarantee loans for short-term cash flow coupled with a fiscal stimulus package.  

As of Wednesday, in Italy, there are 35,713 confirmed cases and 2,978 deaths and in France, there are 9,134 confirmed cases and 264 deaths. In the United States, there are 9,410 confirmed cases and 140 deaths so far. New York has the highest numbers in the nation, 3,083 confirmed cases and 20 deaths, according to the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center and city sources. On Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo said experts could expect the peak of the epidemic at 45 days and have predicted the state could see anywhere between 50,000 to 110,000 cases. 

“If there was a time to do this, it would be now,” said Weaver. 

Neither the state nor the city has not made any official statements on the call for the relief from housing and utility payments.

Broader picture

The $10 billion package also includes funding for public and subsidized housing. “Public housing is woefully unprepared for COVID-19, and the poor quality of public housing means that residents are at great risk of contracting and spreading the virus. Subsidized housing/housing owned by not-for-profits operates on a thin margin, and these mission-oriented landlords must be able to secure hardship relief,” said the Housing Justice for All statement. 

Also on Wednesday, Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez called for a 60-day halt to commercial rent payments. “There is a growing number of employers having to make the arduous decision of furloughing or laying off thousands of workers or facing serious financial ramifications,” he said in a statement. “Therefore, I call on the city to impose a temporary Rent Freeze for all small business owners who are currently impacted by Coronavirus restrictions. “

The pairing of a mortgage freeze with a rent freeze is important not just for owner-occupied homeowners, but also for landlords, whose ability to service mortgage debt would be compromised if rental income ceased.  



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