In the midst of the devastating impacts of COVID-19, New Yorkers have taken unprecedented action to fight for the solutions we need. Thousands of tenants faced with severe financial crisis couldn’t pay rent and decided not just to advocate for themselves but to fight collectively for all tenants in their buildings to have a home, and went on one of the largest coordinated rent strikes in this city’s history. Tenants held weekly actions in front of housing court, blocked the streets, lobbied their elected officials, marched, and so much more. The past year has been an unparalleled time in organized New Yorkers demanding action. We demanded that the state cancel rent for ALL New Yorkers and create a landlord hardship fund to support struggling landlords while making sure that we don’t yet again create a corporate bailout. We demanded a voucher program that would house New Yorkers experiencing homelessness. And we demanded a blanket, universal eviction moratorium, recognizing that while evictions are always a public health crisis, and are always violent, they are especially so during a pandemic.
When the NY state legislature was given the opportunity to use 2.3 billion dollars in federal money to take bold action and meet the scale of the crisis, they failed to deliver what we need. NYS could have used the federal funds to universally cancel rent and house every New Yorker experiencing homelesses. Instead, they chose to simply pass along the limited Federal program, rather than using it as a foundation for universal relief. They added only $100M in state funds to create a rent relief program where each household will have to struggle through an application process.
In response to the tenant movement, our NY State legislature created some protections for tenants whose landlords accept the rent relief funds, including Good Cause, a rent freeze, and explicitly including undocumented New Yorkers. Unfortunately, these protections aren’t set up as collective rights but instead as individual benefits. They must be rights for ALL tenants.
We have built a powerful movement in the past year, stopping almost all evictions and building the groundwork for a city without them. Our collective work and its impact is historic and it’s unstoppable. We will continue to organize for everything we deserve: a just implementation of the current laws, an eviction moratorium, full right to counsel for all New Yorkers, rent cancellation, and a dignified home for everyone.