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New York lawmakers move to ban evictions during the coronavirus outbreak

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“We need to ensure that people aren’t thrown out of their homes in the middle of a public health crisis”

Max Touhey

Update: On March 20, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a 90-day moratorium on evictions for residential and commercial tenants, meaning no one can be evicted in New York state until at least June 20th. If you have questions about New York’s eviction moratorium, read our explainer for the latest on what this means for renters.

State lawmakers have introduced legislation to enact a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures during New York’s coronavirus outbreak. State Senators Brad Hoylman and Brian Kavanagh announced the bill on Thursday, echoing the economic concerns raised by a growing coalition of housing advocates and elected officials.

The bill follows a widely-circulated petition by Housing Justice for All—a coalition of tenants’ rights groups including Make the Road, New York Communities for Change, and the Met Council on Housing—calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals Janet DiFiore to issue an eviction moratorium amid the state’s outbreak. That petition has garnered more than 7,000 signatures in less than a day.

“Housing is health care,” says Housing Justice for All spokesperson Cea Weaver, stressing that tenants are at an increased risk of becoming homeless as more businesses close and layoff workers. “We’re having a public health emergency, and the reality is that it’s really critical that we have housing security for the people who are most vulnerable to this.”

The tenant coalition, which helped push through sweeping rent reforms in Albany last year, argues that the threat posed by COVID-19 will spur “widespread displacement from our homes and our jobs or businesses,” and without an immediate moratorium on all evictions and utility shut-offs, New Yorkers are vulnerable to economic ruin during the outbreak.

At a Thursday press conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio expressed similar concerns, and said that in some cases those who are unable to pay their rent and are faced with eviction will be able to receive support through the city’s Human Resources Administration. The New York City Housing Authority has placed a moratorium on evictions amid the outbreak, according to Deputy Mayor Vicki Been.

“We’re worried about folks having trouble paying the rent,” said de Blasio. “Our goal here is to not only avoid the kinds of evictions that would happen because people are losing their livelihood in this crisis, but actually freeze up evictions as much as humanly possible.”

The Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP), a landlord group, cautioned against moving hastily towards a moratorium, but said that the groups members “are willing to do whatever is asked of them by the government.”

“We simply request that property owners are not asked to bear a disproportionate part of the burden. Rents pay for property taxes, insurance, mortgages, maintenance, and the salaries of building supers and staff,” the group said in a statement. “We urge lawmakers to consider these dynamics before rushing to enact moratoriums. If they do choose to enact moratoriums, we hope they will include appropriate compensation to building owners to cover financial losses.”

In recent days, other U.S. cities have moved forward with similar measures. Officials in San Jose, California are enacting a moratorium of at least 30 days for those who can clearly document their inability to pay rent due to a coronavirus-related loss of income. Police in Miami, Florida announced on Thursday that officers will not assist with evictions proceeding during the emergency declared by Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

In the five boroughs, a chorus of lawmakers have come out in support of an eviction moratorium: City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said on Twitter that officials should “halt evictions ASAP”; in a statement, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said evictions “could compound the danger of the virus spreading to vulnerable populations.”

In a recent letter to Gov. Cuomo, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer wrote that permitting evictions to continue amid the outbreak “makes no sense, from a public health, economic or humanitarian standpoint;” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams also urged for unity in the city’s uncertain economic landscape. Councilmember Brad Lander, who represents brownstone Brooklyn, said the moratorium is a “common sense” measure to ensure “a short term crisis doesn’t become a depression.”

“This is both about compassion and equity,” Lander told Curbed. “We need to ensure that people aren’t thrown out of their homes in the middle of a public health crisis.”

Gov. Cuomo, State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Assemblymember Carl Heastie—all of whom were mentioned in the petition—did not immediately return requests for comment.