The Urgency of Housing Justice During the Pandemic

New York has done little to address the grave concerns of renters and homeowners as COVID-19 ravages the state. There is an urgent need for the government to protect New Yorkers by instituting immediate rent, mortgage and utility payment suspension.

Asha Ramachandran, Deputy Opinion Editor

As New York has become the epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic — accounting for 5% of global cases — Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been grossly overselling his own efforts to tackle the grave financial consequences for New Yorkers, especially those who are low-income and housing-insecure. He called his own decision to supposedly suspend foreclosures and waive mortgages for three months for those suffering financial hardship “bold but necessary” action. This action plan, however, is no more than a distortion on the governor’s part, as the Department of Financial Services later clarified that the executive order was not mandatory and simply “urges” lenders to do their part. It seems New Yorkers are now reliant on the good will of banks and landlords as their government has left them out to dry.

The housing situation for many New Yorkers in the midst of a worsening pandemic is extremely precarious. The state has ordered businesses to send all nonessential workers home, putting their income in jeopardy, and the unemployment rate is expected to skyrocket. New York City is already the most expensive place to live in the country and 44% of New Yorkers are rent-burdened. New York City’s predatory landlords are also notorious for overcharging and exploiting tenants, so it is more pressing than ever for the state government to prioritize a comprehensive platform for housing justice.

Gov. Cuomo has taken a necessary first step in putting a moratorium on all evictions for 90 days. But what happens when the crisis diminishes and landlords and banks move to immediately retaliate against vulnerable New Yorkers? Millions could be evicted or put into debt because they could not afford rent during an unprecedented disaster.

The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic will most likely surpass the 2008 recession, when unemployment and homelessness hit New Yorkers particularly hard. A social safety net and guaranteed protections are necessary in the short-term and long-term to prevent extreme financial suffering.

Advertisement

A finalized $2 trillion stimulus package that promises direct payments of $1200 to low-income Americans will simply go right into landlords’ direct deposits while failing to even cover one month’s rent in a place like New York City, where the median monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in 2019 was around $2980.

The end of the month is quickly approaching, meaning New Yorkers will be charged for rent and mortgages even as the pandemic rages on. The state government has offered no more than platitudes to alleviate the burden of rent and mortgage payments as the economy goes into freefall. Bold action on housing is necessary and Cuomo should act as soon as possible to freeze rent and mortgage payments indefinitely. 

As New Yorkers struggle with affording basic necessities and as more and more go out of work and lose their only source of income, the government allowing landlords and banks to continue to demand payments is unacceptable. Once the threat of COVID-19 has eased, New Yorkers will still be struggling with unparalleled financial consequences — housing costs chief among them. Housing justice can no longer be pushed aside by the governor.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

Email Asha Ramachandran at [email protected]

Advertisement

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here