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Amid calls for rent relief in New York, Cuomo insists the issue is solved

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Concerns linger about rent payments—but Cuomo says the issue is solved

Max Touhey

Calls to cancel rent payments are growing across the state, as millions of New Yorkers grapple with the economic fallout of the novel coronavirus pandemic. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo insists that he has already provided relief for tenants struggling to make rent.

Earlier this month, the state suspended evictions for 90 days. The policy protects tenants from losing their homes until at least mid-June, but tenants who miss rent payments will still be on the hook for paying back their landlords. Without additional relief, lawmakers and tenant advocates say thousands of New Yorkers could face eviction once the moratorium is lifted, triggering mass displacement and fueling New York City’s homelessness crisis.

At a Monday press conference, Cuomo said he has already addressed the issue.

“We have said that no one can get evicted for nonpayment of rent and that to me is the fundamental answer,” Cuomo said. “That solves all of the above.” The governor added “no evictions for non-payment of rent and then we’ll see where we are.”

State Sen. Michael Gianaris disagrees. On its own, he says, the eviction moratorium only prolongs the inevitable and still leaves renters vulnerable. But under a bill recently proposed by the Queens lawmaker, residential and commercial tenants who have lost income due to the outbreak of COVID-19 would not have to pay rent for 90 days. It would also provide mortgage relief to landlords of qualifying tenants, ultimately pushing those debts to the banks. The bill currently has 22 co-sponsors, and Assembly member Yuh Line Niou has already introduced a version in that chamber.

“The eviction moratorium, while good, does not solve the problem that is going to crash over us in three months time,” says Gianaris. “That’s all the moratorium does; it pushes back the date but does not stop the financial obligation from accruing. The only way to really deal with this is to actually forgive the rent payments.”

Tenant advocates want the state to take the bill’s concept a step further by cancelling rents across the board for the duration of the pandemic. A petition created by Housing Justice for All, which now has more than 79,000 signatures, calls on Cuomo to cancel rents for struggling tenants. The eviction moratorium is a start, but far from the solution, according to one housing organizer.

“It just obviously doesn’t solve everyone’s problems,” says Cea Weaver. “We’re looking at mass evictions unless Cuomo takes a more serious look at the fact that half the state is living unstably right now.”

With April 1 only days away, many renters have little choice but to leave their rent unpaid. Some tenants are mulling rent strikes or planning protests to send a message to elected officials. In a social distancing-friendly form of protest, the Justice Center en el Barrio and community groups are calling on Bronx residents to bang pots and pans at their windows on April 1 at 6 p.m., along with cries of “Cancel the Rent/Cancela la Renta.”

“When the COVID-19 crisis starts to fade, all the rent will be due and every unemployed or underemployed family will be economically ruined,” says Justice Center organizer Graciela Pichardo. “There is nothing protecting us from being evicted then.”