New York tenant group demands eviction moratorium in wake of health crisis

San Jose is already moving forward with a moratorium on COVID-19 related evictions

Tenant group Housing Justice for All is using the coronavirus crisis to demand a moratorium on evictions. (Credit: iStock)
Tenant group Housing Justice for All is using the coronavirus crisis to demand a moratorium on evictions. (Credit: iStock)

The group behind last year’s rent law reset is using a public health crisis to demand more tenant-friendly changes.

Housing Justice for All (HJ4A) — a coalition of tenant groups including Make the Road, New York Communities for Change, Met Council on Housing and the Democratic Socialists of America — is calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Court of Appeals Chief Judge Janet DiFiore to issue a moratorium on evictions in light of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, which has just reached pandemic status.

In San Jose, California, the City Council is already moving forward with a similar measure, which is expected to pass next week, according to Mercury News, and will be in place for at least a month. Italy is also planning a moratorium on debt repayment, including mortgages.

“The lack of stable housing is a major barrier to being healthy,” HJ4A spokesperson Cea Weaver said of the connection between housing affordability and the public health crisis. “Housing is more important now than ever before. In the face of a crisis of unknown proportions, our reaction is to double down — we need to make sure we’re doing everything to protect the most vulnerable.”

The tenant coalition last year pushed through the most significant changes to New York’s rent law in a generation, upending the multifamily rental market, eroding values overnight and leading some real estate firms to look for investments outside of the city.

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Now, HJ4A argues that a public health crisis, like the one currently spreading across the globe, disproportionately puts those facing homelessness at risk, and for tenants and lawyers to attend housing court “adds the cruel insult of a severe health risk to the injury of eviction,” the petition reads.

Jay Martin, the executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Project, a New York City trade association that represents small landlords, called the move “craven political opportunism,” and said the tenant group was using a “health crisis to advance their political agenda.”

“Preventing evictions is not solving the problem,” said Martin. “There needs to be a collective and collaborative conversation — a moratorium is a temporary fix to a long-term problem.”

The petition for the moratorium, which is addressed to Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, was circulated online Wednesday and rapidly gained support from the group’s online following. At time of publishing, the petition had garnered more than 1100 signatures.

According to the HJ4A, San Francisco is also considering a similar measure. The New York group is coordinating with others nationally, but did not orchestrate the call for a moratorium in California.