Last Tuesday, dozens of people rallied at the Murray Hill LIRR station to urge the governor to cancel commercial rent for tenants and give tax breaks to landlords affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Advocates also called on the governor to halt the filing of eviction petitions with housing court, and suspend evictions until legislation can be passed to cancel rent.
Youngsoo Choi from Korean American Civic Empowerment (KACE) said the Korean-American community, like many others, has been experiencing “unprecedented” unemployment and loss of business opportunities for almost six months.
“Such dire situations have deprived residential and commercial tenants of their ability to pay rent,” Choi said. “We have been pushed to the point where our only option is to collectively act and address these life-threatening challenges before us.”
Christine Colligan, longtime president of the Korean American Parents Association of Greater New York (KAPAGNY), said she has seen 30-year dry-cleaning businesses and nail salons shutter. Colligan and her husband own a store, but during the pandemic, their landlord took three months worth of rent from their deposit account.
“Each block, you can see three to four ‘For Rent’ signs,” she said. “People are dying, they need help.”
She called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to take action immediately and not wait until January when the legislative session restarts.
“Why is the governor silent?” Colligan said. “Why doesn’t he send out an executive order?”
State Senator Jessica Ramos said small businesses have been struggling since before the pandemic, but the economic consequences of these last few months have fallen hard on mom-and-pop shops.
She recently criticized the State Liquor Authority for levying what she said were exorbitant fines on many bars and restaurants that allegedly broke COVID-19 rules, forcing some of them to temporarily forfeit their liquor licenses.
“There have been many challenges in order to stay open,” Ramos said.
The Queens lawmaker noted that there are a couple of legislative proposals at the state level to help small businesses. One bill by State Senator Zellnor Myrie calls for an eviction moratorium of at least one year for commercial tenants.
Another bill by State Senator Julia Salazar would cancel rent and provide mortgage forbearance for small landlords.
Ramos said she wants to protect immigrant small businesses and provide more opportunities for residents to open their own stores.
“Every single one of my neighbors should have the ability to start their own business,” she said. “It’s how we spur creativity, spur innovation and keep our streets vibrant here in Queens.”
Assemblyman Ron Kim said his parents came to the United States in 1987 and opened a small grocery store, only to see it go bankrupt a decade later.
Kim said many Asian-Americans and immigrants like his parents have been disappointed over the last few years, even before the pandemic, with the fleeting idea of the American dream.
“It’s no longer here for us,” he said. “Now when we walk around, people are not saying it’s an American dream, it’s an American scam.”
The Flushing legislator said before 1980, even big corporations and billionaires “paid their fair share.” Now, however, they are making tremendous profits at a time when people are struggling to put food on the table.
Kim said many of his constituents have told him they’re even considering moving back to their country of origin.
“They want to shut their stores and go back to where they came from because they don’t want to be part of this country anymore,” he said.
He noted that the departure of immigrants would be a problem for the city and state, because without immigrant small businesses and workers, “there is no economy.”
“This is not a compassion plea, this is an economic argument we’re making to the governor and mayor,” Kim said. “We have to step in, do whatever we can legally and financially, to help cancel or write down these debts so they have a fighting chance to not only survive, but thrive moving forward in New York.”
The state lawmakers said part of their strategy to convince the governor to take action is to build alliances among Asian, Latino, Black and other immigrant communities.
“We’re going to march every single day until we get justice for our workers, our small businesses and our tenants,” Kim said.
“Little by little, we’re starting to organize into a collective movement that will hopefully get the governor’s attention to take action that he hasn’t taken in the past 200 days,” Ramos added. “We want him to make serious commitments to helping our local economy.”