Police arrested more than a dozen activists outside Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Manhattan office Friday afternoon during a protest calling on the governor to take action before the state’s eviction moratorium expires Saturday.
The demonstrators, who gathered in front of the New York Public Library in Bryant Park before marching east, sat down at the intersection of 41st Street and 3rd Avenue, linking hands and blocking traffic. Police blasted a warning that protesters would be arrested unless they cleared the road.
The tenant leader at the bullhorn, Adolfo Abreu of the Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition, moved the standing crowd to the sidewalk. He told press on the scene that civil disobedience had been planned “to send a message to our leaders” to extend the eviction moratorium and pass good cause legislation.
As officers escorted the last zip-tied protestor to a police van, the crowd cheered and chanted the call and response: “Whose streets? Our streets!”
From its first rallying cries, it was clear the protest was more concerned with criticizing the governor than touting the benefits of good cause. Activists held signs showing Hochul’s headshot beside the moniker, “Governor of Evictions.”
“Are we gonna sit by and let Gov. Kathy Hochul continue Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s agenda?” a tenant activist with Housing Justice For All asked the crowd, criticizing Hochul for prioritizing the needs of the real estate industry over those of renters, something her predecessor was frequently accused of doing.
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who is challenging Hochul in the gubernatorial election later this year, echoed that critique, broadcasting that Hochul had benefited from the same real estate donors that backed Cuomo.
“Don’t worry about who gave you those millions of dollars,” Williams said, addressing Hochul before the crowd. “Be courageous. I dare you to say yes to good cause.”
Then, the rally’s focus diverged. Instead of good cause, speakers called for an extension of the eviction moratorium, an action Hochul has explicitly declined to take.
Still, New York City Comptroller Brad Lander enumerated reasons to lengthen the nearly two-year stay on evictions that has left smaller landlords struggling to keep current on their bills. He said the lack of available rent relief necessitated an extension.
“If [the governor] knows we need more money, then how could [she] think it’s a good time, in the middle of winter, in the middle of the eviction crisis to let the moratorium expire?” Lander said.
Landlord advocates have repeatedly called on Hochul to end the eviction moratorium and fund state rent relief. Most recently, the Rent Stabilization Association turned its attention to the federal government, calling on Congress to “press for the delegation” of the $1 billion Hochul requested from the Treasury last year.
Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, a landlord group, said he hoped the state would be able to reallocate unused pandemic relief dollars toward the rent relief fund. CHIP estimates the state needs $2 billion to cover arrears accumulated during the pandemic.
Both trade groups have been dogged opponents of good cause eviction. RSA President Joseph Strasburg likened the bill to a “rent control scheme.” In a senate hearing last Friday on the proposed legislation, CHiP’s general counsel, Joseph Condon, said strict regulations such as good cause “lead to reduced quality and lower quantity of rental housing.”
Beyond last week’s hearing, the push for the statewide measure has not gained substantial traction with the legislature or the governor, who has never commented on it publicly. Individual municipalities, however, have implemented their own versions of good cause legislation.
The most recent bill, passed in Kingston, Ulster County, followed similar measures in Newburgh, Hudson, Albany and Poughkeepsie. The Kingston bill still needs Mayor Steve Noble’s signature to pass; he has previously voiced support for it.
Those arrested at the demonstration had been released by Friday afternoon, Housing Justice For All tweeted
Hochul, who was in Albany Friday, did not address the protester’s calls during an afternoon press briefing. Instead, she highlighted that Covid cases have declined over the past week, saying that the state is “turning the corner on the winter surge,” and said she would now turn her focus to the state budget. Negotiations kick off next week.
“As much as I’d love to be at the [Buffalo Bills] game, I’ll be here with the TV on one side and have my budget director with me,” Hochul said. “Those are my priorities.”