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Stop All Evictions in New York — It’s a Matter of Life and Death

New York must immediately reinstate a complete eviction moratorium, incoming New York state legislators and socialists Jabari Brisport and Marcela Mitaynes argue. You can't stay at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19 if you're forced out of your home.

Many New Yorkers are suffering right now, unable to afford food or rent, and New York’s patchwork moratorium cannot solve the problem. (Pixabay)

Two weeks ago, in the overlap of our two districts, a family was legally evicted for the first time in New York City since the beginning of the pandemic. The tenant of record was evicted along with her elderly father, her daughter and her one-year-old grandchild. This multigenerational family is now without a home in the middle of a deadly, resurging pandemic. And many more families are about to face the same fate; there are currently 1.4 million households struggling to pay their rent.

Evictions are always devastating; this year, they’re deadly. Evictions directly correlate with COVID-19 cases and deaths, and have already led to more than 10,000 COVID-19–related deaths nationwide. Health care workers recognize this, and in August a coalition of doctors, nurses and frontline providers signed a letter calling for a comprehensive eviction moratorium.

Acting on that sound medical guidance, New York state did the right thing and enacted a complete eviction shutdown for seven months.

Yet Governor Cuomo let the moratorium expire on October 1. Despite what he says in his press conferences, our governor has chosen to allow evictions to begin while creating a patchwork of weak protections that let families slip through the cracks. The truth is, there is no eviction moratorium in New York right now. And come December 31, every measure New York has put in place to prevent evictions during COVID will vanish and we will face a tsunami of evictions — unless we take action now.

The most basic task of legislators in a deadly pandemic is to keep as many people alive as possible. If we take that task seriously, we must stop all evictions immediately. What greater hypocrisy could there be than to urge people to socially distance and stay at home — and then stand by as they’re forced out of those homes?

The two of us ran for office as a tenant organizer and a public school teacher. We have seen firsthand the devastation that eviction causes even in “normal times.” Now the situation is even more dire.

Both of us are still working our current jobs as we make the transition to Albany. For Marcela, that means working with families who haven’t been able to pay the rent since March. It means counseling dozens of people among the 57,000 tenants rejected from Cuomo’s failed rent relief program, telling them that there is no other option on the table.

Marcela has been evicted herself and knows intimately how it can upend every aspect of a person’s life. Once you lose an affordable apartment, it is almost impossible to find another one — and you become more likely to become evicted again, in unregulated apartments with higher rents and no protections.

For Jabari, working in classrooms, it means worrying about students who haven’t been seen in class since March. At the height of the pandemic in the spring, one of his students was illegally evicted and stopped attending classes. We have no way of knowing how he is doing or where he is now. During the pandemic, when our homes are our classrooms, evictions and homelessness threaten and disrupt every student’s ability to learn.

Neither of us will be sworn into office until January, but we urge our soon-to-be colleagues to return to session right now, and pass the Myrie/Reyes Emergency Housing Stability and Displacement Prevention Act (S8667/A10827) before the end of the calendar year. We cannot wait until the new year to stop evictions and more deaths from taking place.

Too many New Yorkers are suffering right now, unable to afford food or rent, and New York’s patchwork moratorium cannot solve the problem. Since courts began hearing cases in October, forty thousand tenants have missed their court dates and are facing automatic eviction via default judgements. There are countless reasons why a tenant might miss a court case: fear of the virus, a lack of proper internet, and most egregiously, because courts have been turning tenants who attempt to answer away.

For working class, multigenerational households, this is a matter of life and death. New research shows that between March and October, New York’s blanket eviction moratorium saved ten thousand lives.

That’s why New York must reinstate a full eviction moratorium immediately. Cancelling rent and mortgage arrears accumulated during COVID-19 is equally necessary to keep people in their homes in the long term.

And we can’t let the burden of clearing the back rent fall on homeowners and mom-and-pop landlords. Instead, we must raise taxes on the wealthy and create a small landlord hardship fund for those who truly can’t afford to pay their mortgages. Corporate landlords, who are already eyeing this crisis as an investment opportunity and continue to turn profits, can shoulder the costs themselves.

Passing this legislation won’t be easy, but there is reason to be hopeful. Democrats now hold supermajorities in both the Assembly and the State Senate. Both chambers have unprecedented numbers of progressive members gearing up to implement a bold progressive vision including canceling the back rent, taxing the wealthy, and ending mass incarceration in our state.

And we will have the chance to do more than slow the bleeding. In March, it will be time once again for the state to set its budget. That means we have a new opportunity to demand that New York return to taxing those wealthy few who have grown wealthier still through this crisis. We can demand that our budget put our lives ahead of luxuries for the lucky few.

This is our window of opportunity to protect and rebuild our future. The first and most crucial step is passing a comprehensive, statewide eviction moratorium. We urge our future colleagues to take action now, before the New Year, to save lives and keep our people in their homes.