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Thousands of New Yorkers launch rent strike amid coronavirus outbreak

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Posted at 3:26 PM, May 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-01 22:22:48-04

MANHATTAN, N.Y. — New Yorkers hit hard by the economic fallout of the coronavirus outbreak kicked off a rent strike Friday amid demands the state do more to help hundreds of thousands of people who lost their jobs under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “PAUSE” plan that closed non-essential businesses.

The protesters unfurled banners in different parts of the city. A caravan of vehicles clad with signs drove from Times Square to Cuomo’s office on Third Avenue while a few mask-wearing protesters stood outside with a mariachi band, maintaining a social distance.

“We’re here to show our power,” said Queens tenant organizer Lorena Lopez. “At least 50 buildings are on rent strike, and over 12,000 people are not paying rent to turn pain into collective action.”

Another caravan protest targeted the governor’s executive mansion in Albany and a virtual press conference was held on Zoom.

Samelys Lopez, who’s running for a congressional seat in the Bronx, was among a group of protester who hung a “Cancel Rent” banner from the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge.

“I joined my comrades this morning determined to let the world know that we have to #CancelRent!” she said in a tweet along with photos from the demonstration.

The day of action, timed to the first of the month when rent is typically due, was organized by leaders of the Housing Justice for All campaign and the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition.

The organizations and individuals have been calling on Cuomo to cancel rent payments amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Some advocates suggest rent should be paid for with a tax on the most wealthy or argue landlords should take the hit.

About 30 million Americans across the country have filed for unemployment insurance in the last six weeks, according to the Department of Labor. Of the 3.8 million new claims filed last week, about 323,000 were from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

New York officials are also still grappling with filing issues, particularly with claims from freelancers and self-employed workers who previously would not have qualified for unemployment insurance.

Despite the growing tensions, the governor has repeatedly said an existing executive order that does not allow landlords to evict tenants for nonpayment of rent through June is sufficient help for renters.

The mandate, however, stops short of saying tenants do not have to pay rent.

Cuomo on Friday cautioned that canceling rent was not a straightforward proposition.

“I get the argument no one should have to pay rent right now,” the governor said. “And I also get landlords who say if nobody pays I’m going to walk away from my building, and it’ll be vacant, and I’m not paying my bills.”

Meanwhile, more progressive leaders like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez continue to call for the federal government to bail out renters. However, federal leadership of both parties has not shown strong support for the idea.