Gov. Andrew Cuomo acknowledged protesters calling for the cancellation of rent during his daily press conference Friday, but declined to say what he will do about tenants who can’t pay.
“What we’re doing is, no one can be evicted for nonpayment of rent between now and June, period,” said Cuomo when a reporter asked about protesters demanding that rent be canceled and that billionaires be taxed more.
“I get their argument,” Cuomo said, adding that he is accustomed to many more protesters when passing “more controversial bills.”
But Cuomo dismissed the rowdy protesters, whose airhorns could be heard during the nationally televised press conference. “Landlords and building owners say, ‘If nobody pays rent I’m going to walk away from my building and then it will be vacant.’ They won’t pay their bills, the buildings will collapse.’”
The governor has also opposed any tax increases, instead calling for the federal government to help close what he calls a $13 billion budget deficit. New York already has a millionaires’ tax on personal income that tops out at 8.82 percent.
The May Day protest came as tenant advocate groups launched a rent strike focused on specific landlords in New York City. An online petition circulated by the group has been signed by 12,000 people pledging to withhold rent, and the group said rent strikes are active in 50 buildings. Banners emblazoned with “Cancel rent, Cuomo” were unfurled at numerous buildings in the city.
Multifamily property owners reported varying levels of rent collection in April. Some saw little change, while others saw collection plummet — one lender reported a 50 percent drop in its rent-stabilized portfolio. But with 30 million new unemployment claims, many predict May collection will be worse, especially if rent strikes proliferate.
According to sources, Cuomo is having conversations to craft a “hodgepodge of different solutions” that have been proposed to address the rent issue, but negotiations have not begun. Cuomo is expected to propose something in the next week.
While Cuomo enjoys high approval ratings and expanded executive powers, lawmakers have proposed several bills in response to growing concern over rent and mortgage payments.
Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, proposed a bill to cancel rent and mortgage payments, gaining the support of 17 of her 434 House colleagues, including New York City Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Grace Meng.
State Sen. Brian Kavanagh crafted a bill to provide emergency vouchers for rental assistance, which would require $10 billion in federal funding. Observers say that is unlikely to materialize.
State Sens. Michael Gianaris of Queens and Julia Salazar of Brooklyn proposed legislation of their own to cancel rent and reduce or cancel mortgage bills, but the state has limited authority to force lenders to do that.
Earlier in the coronavirus crisis, Cuomo took action to compel lenders to let single-family home borrowers defer mortgage payments. But his rule does not forgive payments and only applies to state-chartered financial institutions.