State Sen. Michael Gianaris is calling on President-elect Joe Biden to provide relief for New Yorkers — in the form of canceling rent.
The Democratic politician, who represents Astoria, Queens, and, as the deputy majority leader of the Senate is the second highest–ranking member of the legislature in New York City, wrote that New Yorkers have “suffered immeasurable losses of lives and livelihoods, incurring utter devastation to themselves, their families and their businesses.”
“As we face this unprecedented national crisis, we must start working towards a solution that includes significant financial relief for New York City’s struggling renters and businesses who have been irreparably harmed by the pandemic,” Gianaris wrote. “We need robust and targeted residential and commercial rent relief, ideally in the form of rent cancellation and forgiveness.”
New York was the early epicenter of the coronavirus in the spring, and the unemployment level, at 14 percent, remains far above the national average. Legislators, including Gianaris, have sought to provide relief to renters, but his more radical efforts have so far been rejected.
Gianaris proposed legislation to cancel rent in March, but it has not progressed out of committee. His bill would temporarily suspend rent payments for tenants and small businesses who lost income as a result of Covid. Landlords facing financial hardship as a result of diminished rent payments would receive a proportional forgiveness of their mortgage. The bill would not provide relief for lenders holding the mortgages.
Another rent-relief bill, which Assembly member Yuh-line Niou and state Sen. Julia Salazar proposed in July, differs from the Gianaris bill in that it does not have a hardship qualification, and would set up a “landlord relief fund,” contingent on landlords agreeing to freeze rents for five years and not evict tenants without good cause.
Gianaris’ Biden letter has already received pushback from the real estate industry.
Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents 25,000 owners of rent-stabilized apartments, condemned the message, calling Gianaris “out of touch with reality.” Strasburg compared Gianaris’ crusade to cancel rent to efforts to defund the police and block the ill-fated Amazon HQ2 deal in Long Island City.
“Gianaris has been pushing his cancel-rent mantra — also being pushed by the socialist millennials living in his district — since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak earlier this year,” said Strasburg in a statement. “But lawmakers on all levels of government have ignored his radical socialist agenda against landlords because they know that building owners need rent revenue to pay property taxes, heating bills, mortgage loans, and repair and maintenance bills — all of which keeps city services running and families in their homes.”
Rather than canceling rent, landlord groups have favored means-tested federal rent vouchers, similar to the existing Section 8 program, which subsidizes low-income housing by paying a proportion of the rent directly to the landlord.
“A letter to the incoming administration is just an attempt to get his name into newspapers,” Strasburg added. “If Gianaris really wants to help tenants and small businesses — including thousands of small owners who are also small businesses — then he would ask the president-elect to support rent vouchers in a stimulus package.”