Tenants Advocates Organize Rent Strike In New York Amid Pandemic

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By WCBS Newsradio 880

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Rent was due for millions of New Yorkers on Wednesday, but many had no idea how they would pay amid the coronavirus pandemic.

With layoffs, furloughs and unemployment rates spiking throughout the city as New Yorkers are told to stay home in order to prevent the spread of the virus, many were uncertain as to how they would pay their rent come the first of the month.

Tenant rights advocates lobbied Gov. Andrew Cuomo for a state rent freeze, but he refused.

Now, they’ve taken matters into their own hands and a promoting a tool kit for a rent strike against landlords expecting their rent checks.

“This is really getting at the fact that we are not just organizing for rent strikes, we're organizing to build power, so this talks about how to form mutual aid in that how to talk to neighbors,” Susanna Blankly.

Blankly works with the Right to Council Coalition, which is made up of more than 45 tenant advocate groups who are furious that a rent freeze was not issued.

Advocates says renters could owe three months of back rent by June and could face eviction.

“Cancel rent now, cancel mortgages so that we don't have people dying other than COVID-19,” said Windsome Pendergrass, with New York Communities for Change.

Nearly 3.3 million people in the U.S. filed for unemployment the week of March 16, about five times the previous high in 1982. Most state and local governments are putting evictions on pause as states prepare to pay unemployment and the federal government prepares to send stimulus checks. So for most, April's knock won't come with a notice to get out.

But a roof over the head is one of the most basic needs in life. Without money for rent, how can the other bills get paid? And while many will get a reprieve in April, eventually the rent comes due, whether or not the restaurant, plant or construction site reopens when the COVID-19 threat lessens.

(© 2020 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)