June 15, 2020 New York City --
When Albany tries to make compromises between renters and landlords, renters inevitably get the short end of the stick. The New York State Senate and Assembly have passed the “Emergency Rent Relief Act of 2020,” which in reality are a landlord bailout bill (A10522/S08419) and a tenant debt bill (A10290B/S0812B), and they have been delivered to Governor Cuomo to be signed. Cuomo will likely sign this bill in order to wash his hands of the crisis facing renters for—a crisis that began before COVID-19, but that the economic fallout caused by the pandemic has pushed to a breaking point.
Whether or not the bill is signed, Full Time Tenant Union fully and publicly opposes A10522/S08419 and A10290B/S0812B because we, as renters and organizers for tenants’ rights, believe that these bills are not a first step toward addressing the crisis renters are facing under COVID-19—they are actually a step backward from real relief.
1) This assistance comes in the form of MEANS-TESTED vouchers, which puts the burden on tenants to apply and prove that they qualify (have lost income under COVID-19).
We oppose means-tested relief because it is difficult for those working in the informal and gig economies to prove that they qualify for relief, even though they are some of the hardest hit in this crisis.
Additionally, it is often much more difficult for undocumented folks to apply for and receive means-tested benefits. It is not yet clear if undocumented folks will be able to apply for this relief at all.
2) This legislation is NOT ENOUGH to help all of the people who need it. The amount set aside for this assistance is $100 million. This is only enough money to provide 50,000 tenants with two monthly vouchers of $1,000. New York City alone has 5.4 million renters, and a quarter of them didn’t pay any rent in May. (1)
Even Brian Kavanaugh, the senator who introduced the legislation this week, admits that the bill does not provide enough assistance. (2)
3) This assistance will likely come TOO SLOWLY to stop evictions from happening, formally or informally. We’ve already seen how overloaded the unemployment system was in March and April, and an application-based program may well face similar challenges because of the massive and immediate need. Application-based vouchers introduce slow, inefficient bureaucracy that will impede renters from getting the relief that they need, when they need it.
4) This legislation LOCKS RENTERS INTO DEBT. This legislation does not cancel rent and it does not stop landlords or courts from issuing money judgements to collect rent.
5) This legislation DOES NOT PROTECT TENANTS. This money will go directly to landlords without requiring them to make repairs, stop frivolous court cases, stop charging exorbitant rents, or stop evicting people. This legislation makes it clear that Albany prioritizes the profits of landlords over the lives and homes of renters.
Instead of this legislation, Full Time Tenant Union calls for FULL, UNIVERSAL RENT CANCELLATION for the duration of the coronavirus crisis, funded by taxes on the wealthiest billionaires in New York. This is the only way to ensure that every person who needs help receives it. Renters should not have to carry the financial burdens of this crisis in order to protect the profits of landlords.
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