Tenants Demand Rent Cancelation For At Least Four Months, #RentStrike

Tenants Demand Rent Cancelation For At Least Four Months, #RentStrike
Brooklyn building. Photo by Anthony Fomin on Unsplash.

BROOKLYN – At 2 p.m. today, some tenants across the borough gathered near their windows and banged their pots and pans for a statewide cacerolazo demanding Governor Cuomo cancel their rent amid the pandemic.

It’s May 1, and May rent is due today, however, thousands of New Yorkers left without jobs because of the coronavirus have no way to pay. This afternoon thousands of them, along with community organizers, went on a rent strike. They’re demanding Cuomo to cancel rent for four months, or for the duration of the pandemic, whichever is longer.

Vincia Barber is a tenant who lost her job as a childcare worker because of the coronavirus. She has a little bit of savings, but it is not enough for her to survive. She lives with her 14-year-old daughter in a building owned by Jason Korn, the worst landlord in NYC according to the Public Advocate’s 2019 Worst Landlord List.

“It has just been insane that Governor Cuomo… has not put a stop to this,” Barber said at a virtual press conference held on Zoom. “It’s unfair to New Yorkers. We’re suffering. We have to either choose to feed our children or be homeless.”

Organizers and tenants banging their pot and pans via Zoom.

“This is a historic and unique political moment. We won’t survive with the government doing business and usual, bailing our landlords—that’s what got us into this crisis,” Susanna Blankley, the Coalition Coordinator at Right to Counsel NYC Coalition said. “COVID-19 didn’t create the housing crisis, inequity caused by years of racist government policy, and divestment from public and affordable housing did that. ”

“We are not going to accept any solutions that bail out landlords,” Blankley continued. “We need the Governor to take action today, to cancel rent and house all homeless people.”

Christine Charles, a longtime tenant in an apartment in Crown Heights, wants Cuomo to issue an executive order to freeze rent immediately. “Millions are out of work and don’t have jobs, so how can they live knowing that rent needs to be paid?” she said.

“Let’s not be fearful in the fight,” she said. “I have to decide whether to eat or pay my rent and that shouldn’t be. We want to reclaim our home urgently and permanently.”

For those who ask how the landlords will survive if the tenants don’t pay rent, Cristina Jeffers asks, how can they not?

“The landlords are not in trouble. They have invested millions into their properties. They have a lot of money. They aren’t going anywhere,” Jeffers, a tenant leader said. “The ones who are going to suffer are the tenants.”

Melanie Wang is the Chinatown Tenants Union Organizer at the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence (CAAAV). She noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has been especially devastating for the Chinatown and the working-class minority and immigrant communities. She said the 90-day eviction moratorium is not enough to protect tenants.

“We already lived in a city stratified by race and class, by poverty and by immigration status. Now, the health impacts of housing insecurity, substandard living conditions, and overcrowded apartments are being multiplied by the current pandemic,” Wang said.

“Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio cannot continue to lie to the public and say that the 90-day eviction moratorium is enough to protect tenants, nor can they continue to insist that tenants bear the brunt of this crisis alone, individually – scared, shut in their homes, choosing between rent and food,” she continued. “New York must come together to cancel rent for all tenants and find a solution to bear this crisis together.”

The Eldert Union Tenants’ Association is demanding the following from the Governor:

  1. Rent forgiveness for those who cannot pay.
  2. A pledge to cease evictions of all tenants.
  3. A freeze on all rent increases for the next 24 months.
  4. A pledge to secure safety deposits of all tenants.

“Some of us have lost our jobs. Some of us are working much reduced hours. Some of us are standing in solidarity with our neighbors who cannot make ends meet,” a statement by the Association read. “We cannot stand by while individuals are forced to choose between paying for rent and paying for food and healthcare. Collectively, our backs are against the wall.”

According to Deborah Metts, a tenant leader in Harlem, demanding Cuomo to cancel the rent is not a selfish task.

“We will need a minimum of four months for us to financially recover and keep the economy going in NY. It’s not a selfish task,” Metts said. “We don’t need to beg him… The last thing I need to be worrying about is paying rent.”

“COVID-19 is something that has reminded us that we are all human beings,” Metts continued. “It just gave us a fresh pair of eyes to look over an already crooked system. We are over it.”

Ruby Akhter is a Brooklyn tenant and a member of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM). She and her husband have been out of work for two months now because of the coronavirus. They worked at a restaurant and the restaurant closed down.

“Many landlords say they survive on the rent they collect and that is their only form of income,” she said. “Why are we as tenants shouldering that responsibility? Why do working-class people have to pay the sacrifice?”

“Nothing is being done for the working-class. Cuomo cares about the needs of his wealthy real estate friends and doesn’t care about the working class,” she continued. “I urge all tenants… to come together, go on rent strikes, and organize. If we want our communities to survive this pandemic, we must cancel rents now.”

As Barber put it so bluntly, “I need a rent strike for four months or else I will be homeless and you’ll have to find someplace to put me and my daughter.”