Cuomo executive order freezes evictions, but New Yorkers want to freeze rent
Stephon Johnson | 5/14/2020, midnight
For rent-burdened New Yorkers, last week’s news from New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo was a start. Not the start they hoped for, but a start, nonetheless.
The governor, via executive order, called for a moratorium on evictions. In section 290a of the executive law Cuomo told landlords to retreat in their pursuit of evictions.
“There shall be no initiation of a proceeding or enforcement of either an eviction of any residential or commercial tenant, for nonpayment of rent or a foreclosure of any residential or commercial mortgage, for nonpayment of such mortgage, owned or rented by someone that is eligible for unemployment insurance or benefits under state or federal law or otherwise facing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic for a period of sixty days beginning on June 20, 2020,” read the executive order.
But language remains unclear to Joseph Loonam of VOCAL-NY. He said that the announcement to expand the eviction moratorium looked more complicated than Cuomo let on.
“Be clear with tenants in this moment,” said Loonam. “What they owe and when [will] they owe it? What’s the risk of eviction? You’re putting people in situations where they might lose their housing due to a lack of clarity.”
A spokesperson for New York Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) provided some clarification on the executive order to help New Yorkers and people like Loonam.
“The governor’s executive order on May 7 ensures that anyone facing a financial hardship because of COVID-19 will not be evicted from their home through August 20, while the current moratorium prohibiting all evictions throughout the state ends on June 20,” said an HCR spokesperson. “This action builds on the rent relief measures the governor announced, including banning late payments or fees for missed rent payments during the eviction moratorium, and allowing renters facing financial hardship due to COVID-19 to use their security deposit as payment and repay their security deposit over time.”
State officials said they would continue to evaluate COVID-19’s impact on New York State and provide relief to New Yorkers when necessary
Assuaging the fears of the public couldn’t have come at a better time.
A new survey from the nonprofit Public Health Solutions shows just how burdened New York City residents are with not only rent, but other expenses. PHS wanted to address health equity and low-income New Yorkers without health insurance coverage. According to the survey, 82% of Black low-income respondents, 92% of Hispanic low-income respondents, and 95% of Asian low-income respondents are worried about running out of money in the next month.
PHS also revealed that 76% of low-income respondents across all ethnicities are concerned about not getting enough food, 66% are worried about paying for medical costs, 69% are worried about paying utility bills, and 69% are worried about paying off debt.
“Health disparities among low-income New Yorkers and communities of color are a chief concern under normal circumstances, and now, COVID-19 is making the sick sicker and the poor poorer,” stated Lisa David, president and CEO of Public Health Solutions. “We knew that coronavirus was disproportionately infecting low-income communities and people of color, but what we’re seeing here is that these New Yorkers are facing the twin threats of serious illness and increased financial hardship.
“Limited resources for food, housing, and other social determinants will result in poor health,” continued David. “It’s more important than ever that resources to help keep vulnerable individuals and families afloat are available.”
According to data collected by City Hall, zip codes with lower median incomes have higher diagnosed COVID-19 cases per capita compared to wealthier areas with most of those neighborhoods residing in the Bronx.
For those who reside in the five boroughs, the struggle remains. However, the Rent Guidelines Board might provide some relief. Last week, members of the RBG voted to freeze rent for one-year leases and two-year leases.
This is the reason Loonam thinks rent shouldn’t just be frozen. He believes they should end rent payments until COVID-19 infections subside and people are able to go back to work.
“No one should be evicted and especially no one should be evicted at the height of a pandemic,” said Loonam. “You need to create a mechanism where people won’t end up owing the money and having to possibly go back to housing court. COVID has made a tremendous number of people rent-burdened and any minor catastrophe puts them at risk.
“Cuomo needs to come up with a mechanism so that rent is canceled,” Loonam concluded.