Dozens of renters, advocates and legislators marched down the open streets of 34th Avenue to protest the reopening of housing courts, which can once again start the process of evicting tenants from their homes.
Although Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a moratorium on evictions at the start of the pandemic, the extended version, which i sin effect until August 20, only covers renters who are eligible for unemployment or have experienced “financial hardship” as a result of the coronavirus.
As a result, at least 50,000 eviction cases may be filed for nonpayment of rent after housing court reopens, according to housing advocates.
Ivan Contreras, a community organizer with Woodside on the Move, which organized the march, said kicking tenants out of their homes during a pandemic is “inhumane.”
“What we’re basically telling the courts is don’t open,” he said. “Don’t dare start up the eviction process.”
Like many housing advocates, Contreras is calling on Cuomo to cancel rent from March until the end of the pandemic. He also wants the governor to pause mortgages, which he said landlords are asking for as well.
“He doesn’t want to do it, but he has the power to cancel the rent,” Contreras said. “That’s the only solution that we have to stop this.”
Renters from two Woodside buildings, led by Woodside on the Move, have been on a rent strike since the start of the pandemic, the housing organizer said. Roughly 70 percent of the tenants of another building on 89th Street in Jackson Heights are also participating in the strike.
Contreras sent a message to tenants during the march last week that advocates will not “let anyone be on the streets.” He said they will go as far as chaining up apartments and following marshals to prevent renters from being displaced.
“If you throw a person onto the streets right now, it’s basically sending them to the hospital,” he said. “That’s the reality we have right now.”
Andrew Sokolof Diaz, co-president and co-founder of the 89th Street Tenants Unidos Association, said four months into the pandemic residents have suffered from unemployment and food insecurity. He implored Cuomo to listen to calls to cancel rent.
“Week after week, we hear delays and deadlines extended and moratoriums,” he said. “We’re being thrown scraps, like we’re supposed to be grateful for this.
“It’s not right,” Diaz added. “What’s going on is criminal, we cannot evict our neighbors.”
After the march, which concluded at Travers Park, State Senator Jessica Ramos said she and her colleagues sent a letter to the governor asking him to reconsider and keep housing courts closed.
Although Cuomo signed into law the Tenant Safe Harbor Act, which prohibits courts from evicting residential tenants who experienced financial hardship for nonpayment of rent, some lawmakers say these measures do not go far enough.
Another proposed bill, the Emergency Housing Stability and Tenant Displacement Prevention Act, would “disallow the enforcement of any eviction” of a residential or commercial tenant for one year after the end of a state of emergency.
According to Ramos, some 20 million people across the country are expected to be eligible for eviction by September 30.
“The statistics are completely alarming,” she said.
While arguing that billionaires in New York need to pay their fair share in taxes, Ramos advocated for a worker bailout that include undocumented immigrants and other workers who have been excluded from federal stimulus checks or other state aid.
That money can go toward paying rent, buying food and medicine or even acquiring personal protective equipment.
“No tenant is alone in this district, ever,” Ramos said. “Here, we have each other’s back.”
Assembly candidate Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, who is currently leading her Democratic primary race over Assemblyman Michael DenDekker, also spoke at the rally. She noted that 66 percent of the people in her district are tenants who are worried about their jobs and putting food on the table for their families.
“Yet, they have to think about whether they will have a roof over their head at night,” she said. “That is unacceptable at this moment.”
The former executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health added that she believes housing is a human right, and vowed to keep fighting for the rights of all tenants.
“I am here to listen,” Gonzalez-Rojas said. “I am here to fight alongside you all.”
Diaz, who called the fight to cancel rent and prevent evictions a “national” movement, said their efforts are just beginning.
“We have a lot more fighting and advocacy to do,” he said. “The fight continues.”