Militant Journalism

New York politicians push bill to ‘kill’ rent cancellation movement, organizers fight back

On Feb. 28, tenant organizers in New York City demonstrated outside the home of New York State Sen. Brian Kavanaugh in Manhattan to protest his sponsorship of a bill which bails out landlords, not tenants.

Tenants have been demanding the cancellation of rents and mortgages during the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, New York State Senate Bill S2742A seeks to cushion landlords and banks from the effects of the pandemic while offering little relief for people who are struggling to pay for food, medical care and other basic necessities. The bill has been co-sponsored by 31 other Democratic New York State Senators at the time of this writing.

On social media, Kavanaugh pushes the bill as a progressive remedy to the federal government’s neglectful COVID-19 response. This is just a cover. In the The Real Deal, a news service that markets itself as written for real-estate professionals, housing developers, hedge-fund managers, and the wealthy in general, real-estate lobbyists have referred to the bill as the end of the rent cancellation movement in New York. The bill would restrict rent relief to only some tenants. The rent and utilities relief provided by S2742A would be issued directly to landlords and utilities providers.

Coalition of community groups organize protest

At the Feb. 28 demonstration, Esteban Girón of the Crown Heights Tenant Union said, “We’re out here because the state right now is trying to work behind our backs to pass legislation that will bail out landlords, that will not cover all tenants, that will leave some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers behind.”

nicolás equis of Brooklyn Eviction Defense said, “The only reason some people have homes and some people don’t is because of centuries of exploitation.” equis said the housing crisis today stems from the genocide against Indigenous peoples and the war on Black America. “I’m here because rent should be canceled, but also because housing should be free for everyone.”

Kerbie Joseph of the Party for Socialism and Liberation remarked on the need for developing peoples’ power: “People power is feeding your people when the system doesn’t. People power means standing by your comrades, holding banners with your comrades, keeping your comrades safe. During the coronavirus pandemic, many working-class people, especially working-class people of color and LGBTQ people, were left with very little support from the government, and instead had to rely on each other for basic needs.

“There are more empty homes in New York City than there are homeless people. Kavanaugh is a criminal! This system is criminal! We can’t wait on a Democrat to make it happen for us.” Joseph called top Democrats like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and President Biden instrumental in the suffering of working-class people, and said it is truly up to the working class to free itself from the daily oppressions of capitalism.

Protesters hit housing court reopening

Alongside the bill to bail out landlords, housing courts reopened in New York on March. 1. The New York statewide statute which kept those courts closed expired at the end of February. Per New York City’s 311 service, tenants who have experienced financial hardship during the coronavirus pandemic may submit a “hardship declaration form” to their landlords, protecting them from eviction until May 1, 2021. In other words, the state is giving tenants two months to put together rent money. If tenants don’t qualify for bill S2742A’s relief, they will owe back rent as well. 

The Feb. 28 demonstration was organized by Brooklyn Eviction Defense, Cosecha, the Democratic Socialists of America’s Housing Working Group, Full Time Tenant Union, Metropolitan Council on Housing, the Crown Heights Tenant Union, and the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

This same coalition gathered outside the 141 Livingston St. Housing Court in Brooklyn on March 1. It demanded that New York State extend the housing court shutdown for the foreseeable future and cancel all rents during the coronavirus pandemic.

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