Even before COVID-19, New York’s housing crisis was at its breaking point. There are more than 92,000 homeless people in New York State, with approximately 60,000 people sleeping in New York City shelters each night. Many Americans live paycheck to paycheck, with little to no emergency savings. The math is simple: tenants can’t pay their rents if they have no income.
Over a million New Yorkers, who work in hospitality and retail, are losing their income due to the coronavirus pandemic. Half a million are estimated to lose their jobs in NYC alone. We can only expect more businesses to fold and lay off staff.
The good news is in response to COVID-19, New Yorkers will not get evicted thanks to a 90-day eviction moratorium. The bad news is the eviction moratorium is temporary. We need permanent solutions in order to prevent widespread evictions after the moratorium is lifted. Housing instability and massive homelessness will only increase if our government does not take action now.
Homeowners are already getting mortgage relief. But renters are left in the dark. Governor Andrew Cuomo must cancel rents, and provide funding to stabilize housing for thousands of New York renters.
Fortunately, on March 23, 2020, New York State Senator Michael Gianaris introduced a bill that would provide 90-day rent forgiveness to residential and commercial tenants impacted by COVID-19. It would also provide mortgage relief to landlords of those tenants. The next day, New York State Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou introduced the Assembly-version of the bill. This bill has quickly garnered significant attention and an outpouring of support, including from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. While the bill works its way through the legislature, Governor Cuomo has broad emergency powers during this disaster, so he can unilaterally cancel rents by executive order if he wanted to.
Groups like Housing Justice for All, a coalition of over 70 tenant advocacy groups, support the 90 day rent cancellation bill. These advocacy groups are pushing longer-term solutions such as a longer period for rent suspension. Housing Justice for All’s online petition has garnered over 50,000 signatures.
A statewide rent suspension, also referred to as #cancelrent on social media, would be an incredible win for tenants. It’s clear that there are real solutions on the table that would substantially help tenants and these proposals have enormous support.
Here’s another incredibly important proposal. Housing advocates have been lobbying the state legislature for years for the passage of the Home Stability Support bill (HSS). HSS is a statewide rental assistance program that would supplement public assistance shelter benefits. This program would help low income tenants, who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, to stabilize their housing and afford their rents. Programs like HSS are needed now more than ever, as so many workers and families are experiencing loss of income, and are long overdue.
New Yorkers continue to do their part to flatten the curve and look out for one another during this pandemic. Now we call on the governor to do his. As Cuomo has said: “We’re interdependent. I rely on you, you rely on me…That’s the social contract between us.” As part of the social contract, Cuomo rightfully issued an executive order for a 90-day eviction moratorium and a 90-day mortgage moratorium. Cuomo must now deepen the social contract he spoke so eloquently about, and cancel rents during the coronavirus pandemic and pass the HSS bill for the tenants of New York State.
Jason Wu is a housing attorney at a legal services organization in New York City and a Trustee for the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, UAW 2325. On Twitter @CriticalRace.