Know Your Rights
Source: New York Daily News
Subject: Organizing
Type: Media Coverage

Rent strike protests target Cuomo in NYC and Albany

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ALBANY — Frustrated tenants struggling to pay rent amid the coronavirus crisis took their complaints straight to Gov. Cuomo on Friday as they staged multiple protests across the city and in the state capital.

As thousands of New Yorkers signed off on a planned rent strike for the month of May, demonstrators descended upon the Capitol Building in Albany and converged on Cuomo’s Manhattan office to demand rent relief.

Massive banners hung from the 59th St. Bridge around midday made the message clear as demonstrators called on the governor to “cancel rent.”

“A lot of people are suffering economically because of this crisis and we are asking for the governor’s support,” said Alavaro Paulino Jr., who led a mariachi band outside Cuomo’s Third Ave. office.

Cars rolled by with signs calling on the governor to “make the billionaires pay” and “cancel rent” jutting from their windows as mask-clad protesters petitioned Cuomo to provide relief for “excluded workers” that would include undocumented immigrants who are ineligible for unemployment or federal benefits.

An online sign-up for a rent strike, organized by tenant advocacy groups Housing Justice for All and New York Communities for Change, drew thousands of signatories who said they won’t have the funds to pay this month.

Cuomo has so far stood by his order barring evictions, but has resisted calls for a rent freeze.

Julissa Bisono, the associate director of organizing with the advocacy group Make the Road said Cuomo’s moratorium on evictions isn’t enough for hard-hit minority and immigrant communities and those out of work.

“We are still seeing a lot of landlords harassing their tenants for rent,” she said.

“We know that black and brown communities are dying at a higher rate and… the ways the policies are set up aren’t fair and a lot of folks are dying every day who can’t pay for rent,” she said. “(People) aren’t getting relief from the federal government and this is a crisis.”

Roughly 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the last six weeks across the country, according to the federal Department of Labor. About 323,000 people in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut filed last week alone.

State lawmakers have proposed a variety of bills that would offer relief in the form of rental subsidies or cancel rent altogether, but the Legislature has not reconvened in Albany since passing a pared-down budget early last month.

Cuomo said he sympathizes with those enduring financial stress, but pushed back on a full rent freeze during his daily briefing.

“I get the people who say nobody should have to pay rent, I get that argument,” the governor said.

But, he said, building owners are also facing hardships amid the pandemic.

“I get the landlords who say, and the building owners who say, ‘if nobody pays rent, I’m going to walk away from my building and then it’s going to be vacant and I’m not going to pay any bills because if they don’t pay rent I’m not paying bills and then you have a collapse of buildings,’ ” Cuomo said.

Car horns could be heard outside the Capitol during the briefing as the second group of protesters rallied against the governor’s stay-at-home orders.

Cuomo brushed off the protest, which drew demonstrators carrying signs supporting President Trump and the libertarian-adopted “Don’t Tread on Me” slogan, saying his decision to reopen the state will not be based on politics.

“You think these are protesters, “ he said. “There’s several dozen. You come when we’re doing a controversial bill, we have hundreds of protesters filling the entire building.”