‘Tenants are accruing debt that they will not be able to repay. The latest CDC guidance is not comprehensive or long enough and we need state leaders to act.’

evictions are violent

J. Murphy

Imagine a world where tenants aren’t evicted during a global pandemic. This is a world where those struggling—disproportionately Black and brown, immigrant and undocumented households—don’t accrue mounting debt as a result of not being able to pay rent to comply with government-mandated stay-at-home orders; a world where rent is cancelled. Where New Yorkers without stable housing and those on the brink of homelessness can easily get assistance to move into permanent homes. Where struggling homeowners have government assistance. Where the economic burdens from this pandemic are shared responsibly and those most in need are afforded protections. This world is possible.

As Governor Cuomo makes it clear that he will not stand with renters, we need a State legislature—and a Housing Chair—who will fight for that world.

To envision a just future after COVID-19, healthy communities with thriving families who live and work near their affordable homes, we must also envision solutions to the housing crisis that was already at a breaking point before the public health emergency. We must create stronger, more comprehensive protections for New York’s families. Our organizations have the solution: clear the back rent that is owed and pair it with a landlord hardship fund; pass a year long eviction moratorium for commercial and residential tenants; invest in meaningful rent support programs that prioritize homeless New Yorkers.

State Senator Brian Kavanagh is the only state-level elected official in lower Manhattan, where we serve working class communities, who has not signed onto Senator Julia Salazar’s bill to cancel rent—a bill supported by nearly every tenant group in New York State.

This is disappointing for two reasons. First, he is the state senator that represents our districts—districts that are home to thousands of working-class people and districts that are rooted in a long history of tenant and community activism. Secondly, it is disappointing because he is the chair of the New York State Senate committee on Housing, Construction and Community Development. In this role, and with the backing of thousands of his constituents whom our organizations represent, he could be offering bold solutions to the crisis. Instead, he has dragged his feet and is behind his neighboring colleagues. He has had months to offer real solutions that will keep people in their homes long term, and hasn’t offered anything that goes above and beyond what the Trump administration has offered.

Over one million New Yorkers face eviction on October 1st. Although there have been some limited protections over the last few months, some of the guidance has been issued by the courts, not by our political leadership. Now the courts have indicated they will no longer bear the responsibility of staying the crisis. We need serious policy action to prevent mass evictions and stabilize our communities.

The Center for Disease Control recently issued guidance that prohibits property owners from evicting tenants (only in limited situations) before December 31st, 2020. It does absolutely nothing for unpaid rent, which continues to pile up for countless households in New York. Tenants are accruing debt that they will not be able to repay. This CDC guidance is not comprehensive or long enough and we need state leaders to act.

Senator Kavanagh’s initial eviction moratorium bill was unhelpful and out of touch with the tenant movement. His moratorium bill initially pushed off evictions until only September 20, 2020, which has already passed.

The federal, CDC-issued moratorium expires at the end of December, but because of the backlog of cases, the Office of Court Administration in New York has stated most COVID-related cases likely won’t even be heard until January.

After immense pressure from tenants groups, including many in his district, Kavanagh signed on to the eviction moratorium measure supported by the tenant movement, Senator Zellnor Myrie’s eviction moratorium bill (S8667). This bill will ban evictions for a year after the state of emergency has been lifted. Any eviction ban should be directly tied to the public health outbreak. Kavanagh’s bill doesn’t do this.

Along with Senator Myrie’s Eviction Moratorium bill (S8667/A10827), we need a fully funded voucher program (S7628A/A9657) and we need to cancel rent for all tenants (S8802/A10826). By cancelling rent for all renters, tenants across the state would not have to qualify for selective, means-tested relief like the New York State rent relief program, which has yet to notify tenants we serve about receiving assistance and excludes those who need the most support: gig workers, undocumented community members, renters without traditional leases, and those with limited English proficiency.

Canceling rent would streamline the process of providing long-term relief for tenants and small home owners, giving not only peace of mind, but preventing the economic collapse of households who cannot pay rent. The bills also would protect small landlords from losing their properties which are at risk of being scavenged by predatory corporate entities, whose practices concentrated wealth in even fewer hands in the 2008 stock market crash.

Rent is still due, regardless of eviction moratoria or federal guidance. We can’t just push off evictions, kicking the can down the road. We need to legitimately cancel rent, and we need our State Senator, Brian Kavanagh, to do what’s right.

Sasha Wijeyeratne is the executive director of CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities. Ava Farkas is the executive director of the Met Council on Housing. Steve Herrick is the executive director of the Cooper Square Committee. Honda Wang and XingJian Li are NYC-DSA Lower Manhattan co-chairs.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to remove the name of a co-author who was listed on the original op-ed submission, who says they did not approve their name being included on the piece.