As May 1st Approaches, Tenants in New York City are Turning to Their Only Option: A Rent Strike

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A photo illustration of rent strike wheat paste posters (Credit: Getty Images, iStock)

The coronavirus pandemic has become an economic checkmate for an overwhelming majority of Americans, who have not only been left unemployed and without options for alleviating monthly expenses, but who now risk becoming homeless.

In New York, the epicenter of the pandemic in the country since early March, restrictions and closures of public spaces began on March 16, virtually crippling the state’s economy.

According to a report by the Center for an Urban Future (CUF) released in early April, the industries that have suffered the most from the closures have been restaurants, retail, and personal care services, affecting primarily the Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, and Staten Island areas.

However, the most affected employees tend to live in outer boroughs, especially people of color, who will not be able to pay their rent by May 1st.

The communities’ response has been to organize in labor strikes and “an explosion of mutual aid networks,” according to The Intercept.

This includes an initiative to refuse to pay rent, especially because of the lack of government response to the housing crisis that has already begun to undermine the state.

“At least 400 hundred families who live in buildings each containing over 1,500 rental units are coordinating building-wide rent strikes, according to Cea Weaver, campaign coordinator for Housing Justice For All, a New York-based coalition of tenants and housing activists,” the media wrote. “Additionally, over 5,000 people have committed, through an online pledge, to refuse to pay rent in May.”

The total number of families and individuals who will not pay rent at the beginning of the month is likely to double, not only for those who join the strike, but for those who will simply have no choice, considering that, by the first week of April, “one-third of renters nationwide approximately 13.4 million people had not paid rent,” the report adds.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez whose constituents make up District 14 of the Bronx, the area most affected by the pandemic nationwide supported the strike initiative on Monday, calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to cancel rent and mortgage payments at the state level.

In a virtual town hall hosted by New York tenant coalition Housing Justice for All, Ocasio-Cortez said that “people aren’t striking because they don’t feel like paying rent, they’re striking because they can’t.”

“It doesn’t matter how many threatening messages a landlord sends … you can’t coerce people to do something they cannot do,” she added.

The young representative continued to echo the proposal of her colleague, Minnesota representative Ilhan Omar, which was introduced earlier this month to cancel rent and mortgage payments.

As explained by The Real Deal, the bill would “offer total forgiveness on rent and mortgage payments, starting April 1 until 30 days after the end of the federal state of emergency.”

Similarly, the measure would also create “a landlord and lender relief fund to make up for the lost rent and mortgages.”

For State Senator Julia Salazar, the solution in New York is similar.

Through The Emergency Coronavirus Affordable Housing Preservation Act, the senator promotes the fundamental right to housing, not only in crisis situations, but as an inseparable element of the well-being of her constituents.

In a publication on Instagram, Salazar explained that New Yorkers “need a solution with no losses, no loans, and every rent paid.”

“By passing Rent For All, we can preserve affordable housing, while keeping families in their homes and businesses afloat. With no home left behind, and every rent paid, this is a unity bill that meets the needs of this moment,” she added.