Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined Jamaal Bowman, the Democratic nominee for New York’s 16th Congressional District in the Bronx and Westchester, to call for a universal eviction moratorium in New York, as well as cancelling rent for tenants.
“The spirit of this whole evening is to acknowledge the inherent wrongness of kicking people out to the curb in the middle of a global pandemic,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “It’s morally wrong.”
According to the Bronx and Queens legislator, one out of every four renters in New York City has not been able to pay rent since March or April.
She noted that though Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an eviction moratorium at the start of the pandemic, the expanded version of that moratorium effectively excludes undocumented immigrants and those who work in the gig economy.
Housing courts will remain closed until at least August 6, but when they reopen advocates have predicted that more than 50,000 eviction cases will be filed by landlords.
Earlier this month, Cuomo signed the Tenant Safe Harbor Act, which allows renters to use COVID-19 financial hardship as a reason to avoid eviction. But the law still allows landlords to win a monetary judgment from tenants.
Advocates note that renters who had eviction warrants from before the pandemic will not be shielded by the Tenant Safe Harbor Act.
Bowman, who is likely on his way to Congress, said housing security was a problem before COVID-19, but the pandemic made it worse.
“We’re dealing with intersectional crises and a collective trauma that our families and kids have to deal with,” he said. “Not just loss of a job, income and food insecurity, but the potential loss of their homes.
Ocasio-Cortez floated a proposal to suspend all mortgage payments for homeowners in the country, the same way student loan payments have been suspended. Homeowners would be able to tack those payments to the end of their loan cycle, allowing small landlords to also cancel rent for tenants.
“We have the plan,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “We’re just asking our colleagues to try, to not dismiss this idea out of hand but make an effort for tenant relief for everyone in this country.”
Following that call, organizers from the advocacy group Housing Justice for All provided an eviction defense workshop for the thousands of viewers attending the virtual event.
Winsome Pendergrass, a member of New York Communities for Change and Housing Justice for All, emphasized the importance of organizing. She urged renters to talk to neighbors and identify shared demands, like making necessary repairs.
Tenants should make a plan to escalate them, such as calling the press and putting up notices in their buildings, she said.
After forming a tenant association in the building, Pendergrass said it’s key to build trust with one another and find help from tenant organizers, lawyers, elected officials and other key allies.
“You determine what your actions look like for you and your neighbors,” Pendergrass said.
Cea Weaver, campaign coordinator for Housing Justice for All, said the most important thing for a tenant to do if they are behind on their rent is to not leave their home.
She urged renters to sign a pledge that will allow the coalition to get in touch with them and provide resources to avoid eviction.
“You have rights,” she said. “You can organize to protect them and strengthen them.”