West Coast pol calls for NY rent strike. Tenant groups say not so fast

New York tenant advocates call it “irresponsible” and “alarming”

A surprise petition for a rent strike appeared online today. New York tenant groups say they don’t support it (Credit: Twitter, iStock)
A surprise petition for a rent strike appeared online today. New York tenant groups say they don’t support it (Credit: Twitter, iStock)

A petition calling for a rent strike in New York State was circulated by a candidate for Congress in Washington State, but New York tenant groups cried foul.

“It’s incredibly irresponsible,” said Cea Weaver, spokesperson for tenant coalition Housing Justice for All, of a surprise petition calling for a rent strike circulated by Congressional hopeful Joshua Collins.

Many tenant organizers have since deleted links from their social media accounts to the petition, which is “already 600k people strong,” according to Collins’ Twitter. On his campaign website, Collins highlights his background as a truck driver and touts an endorsement from Our Revolution and a local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. He is a founding member of socialist group Rose Caucus, which is behind the rent strike petition. The caucus also has rent strike petitions for all states across the country, as well as Washington, D.C.

There is a difference between calling for a rent strike and a public health crisis that leaves tenants unable to pay their rent, according to Weaver, who stressed that a rent strike is a “tactic, not a demand.”

“I want to be clear that rent strikes are not bad,” Weaver said. “It’s a tactic that renters have used to demonstrate power over landlords for centuries to win really good things.”

The petition appeared on social media Tuesday, March 17, surprising many tenant organizers, who initially did not know where it came from.

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“It’s quite alarming and at this point unrealistic,” said Rima Begum, a tenant organizer for Chhaya CDC, a group that organizes South Asian tenants in Queens.

“Any time we put an action on the table we have to think of risks and benefits,” Begum said. “We don’t want to give false hope in a time when people are vulnerable and looking for help.”

Met Council on Housing’s Andrea Shapiro said the petition was made by a person with no connection to New York’s housing movement or grassroots demands.

“We are not supporting this petition,” Shapiro said. “We are calling for a suspension of rent, mortgages and utility payments.”

The New York tenant movement is quickly crafting its demands of the state and federal government in response to the coronavirus, and there have been numerous calls for rent relief.

A state court halted evictions Sunday afternoon, but there has been no announcement yet on mortgage debt, foreclosures or bankruptcies, and eviction notices are still being served.

“We understand why the idea is so popular,” Shapiro said. “And a rent strike is not off the table, because people can’t pay their rent.”

Read more of our coverage on housing policy amid the global health crisis