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27 Apr, 2020 19:38

NYC tenant groups plan 1 million-strong RENT STRIKE as end of eviction moratorium looms with no amnesty in sight

NYC tenant groups plan 1 million-strong RENT STRIKE as end of eviction moratorium looms with no amnesty in sight

New York City tenant groups have joined a growing movement for a statewide rent strike as the continued coronavirus shutdown makes working – and paying – impossible. The state’s eviction moratorium expires in June.

The majority of tenants in the Cosmopolitan Houses complex in Woodside, Queens have joined a rent strike that hopes to enlist upwards of one million New Yorkers, set to begin May 1, organizers told the Wall Street Journal on Monday. Strikers have pointed to the impossibility of making the steep monthly payments as the economy remains in suspended animation due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

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The Queens tenant group is part of a growing movement aimed at convincing a sizable chunk of New York renters to withhold their payments next month in the hope of forcing state lawmakers to impose a “universal cancellation of any rent, mortgage or utility payments owed or accumulated during the length of this crisis.” They hope to involve even those who can afford to pay, and have circulated a “rent strike toolkit” for would-be strikers interested in drafting in their neighbors. Strikers in New York are expected to be joined by groups in Philadelphia, Chicago, multiple California cities and elsewhere across the US.

Led by the Upstate/Downstate Housing Alliance, the New York rent-strike movement has brought together an impressive coalition of tenants’ rights and labor groups to petition for a total suspension of all payments for the duration of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s ‘New York Pause’ order, which has brought the state’s normally-bustling economy to a standstill and thrown millions into unemployment. They also want a $10 billion investment in affordable housing, to include improving the quality of existing public housing, repurposing vacant properties into permanent housing for the homeless, and topping up the budget for subsidized housing.

While New York has adopted a three-month moratorium on evictions, the freeze is scheduled to end in late June and does not forgive renters’ mounting debts. Housing advocates are worried all hell will break loose when housing courts reopen and renters suddenly owe three months’ worth of payments. Some 39 percent of New Yorkers were already living paycheck-to-paycheck in March, according to PropertyNest. With the state’s unemployment benefits website MIA for the first three weeks of the shutdown before rumbling back to life earlier this month, even those who were able to afford their rent for April may be looking at a lean May, especially given the city’s notoriously high cost of living. Just 55.7 percent of New Yorkers surveyed by PropertyNest expected to be able to pay their rent “as usual” come May 1, though a sizable percentage more (15.8 percent) planned to borrow the money, pay late, or work out other agreements with their landlords. 

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Even before the coronavirus pandemic made New York its epicenter, striking down upwards of 17,000 people in New York City alone, both city and state were rapidly losing residents to economic factors. People have been fleeing the state due to its high cost of living for years, with their chief financial fear reported as “living in debt forever,” according to a 2019 survey by GoBankingRates.com – a worry that is unlikely to have evaporated now that so many have lost their jobs. When the smoke clears, the eviction moratorium lifts, and landlords find themselves facing the possibility of trying to pay their own mortgages with thousands of vacant units, they may wish they’d been more patient with their struggling tenants.

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