Too many many requests. 8 minutes after going live, the website for the New York state Covid Rent Relief program crashed, overwhelmed by applications from tenants who are struggling to pay rent in the midst of an economic crisis and pandemic.
It should come as no surprise. 25% of New Yorkers have not paid their rent since March, at the start of the Covid pandemic and the subsequent skyrocketing of unemployment. People around the country find themselves in dire straits: 28 million people are facing homelessness as states lift eviction moratoriums. This coincides with the reality that the extra $600 in unemployment benefits allocated to fight the economic effects of lockdown measures are set to expire at the end of July.
The plan is meant to provide a rental subsidy sent directly to landlords on behalf of tenants. Yet with one fourth of tenants unable to pay rent since March, it is obvious that a one-time payment to landlords is far less than what is needed to protect tenants from eviction. The program’s website crashed so quickly due to the sheer magnitude of people seeking help with their rent payments; the need for more comprehensive relief is even more urgent in light of the fact that the eviction moratorium, which was put in place mid March, expired this month. However, as a result of public pressure and the concerted effort of tenants unions and protests, evictions proceedings will not be heard in courts until August 5.
As for the relief program itself, the rules are confusing. It’s hard to understand who qualifies and who doesn’t. It’s hard to understand when evictions are starting. “It’s like a Talmudic study to figure out what [these orders] mean. It’s ridiculous,” says Edward Josephson, the director of litigation and housing at Legal Services NYC. “I’ve been in the industry for 32 years, and no, I can’t think of anything ever like this.”
To qualify for the program, tenants must earn below 80 percent of the Area Median Income. Additionally, they must have spent 30% of their household income on rent as of March and also prove a loss of income between April 1 and July 31. If someone qualifies, then the state will send a check to the landlord amounting to the difference between 30% of a tenant’s income and their rent payment.
Like other federal relief programs, undocucumented people cannot seek this aid, putting hundreds of thousands New York residents in danger of evictions. Renters who receive a Section 8 housing voucher are not eligible for relief either.
Though the state has implemented an eviction moratorium, landlords can still seek money judgements against tenants, paving the road for quick evictions once housing court reopens. Some landlords are already moving towards attempted evictions of tenants, as was the case on Dean Street where an illegal eviction was stopped by swift community action.
“Since day one we made it clear that no New Yorkers should be thrown on the streets because of hardships caused by this pandemic,” Cuomo said in a press conference. These are clearly nothing but empty words that will do nothing to stop evictions for tenants who are unable to pay rent. If Cuomo truly wanted to protect New Yorkers from homelessness, he would support calls for the cancellation of rent. The program is an ineffective stop-gap measure for an increasingly dire housing situation.
It is nothing but a subsidy for large landlords who continue to get rich as working class people struggle to survive. It is a bureaucratic and inefficient band aid that can only be fixed by stopping all evictions and cancelling all rent as people face the economic crisis. Housing is a right, but like education and healthcare, they are sources of massive profits for the capitalists.
In the coming weeks and months, we will need to struggle against evictions, as well as against the layoffs that are already starting to occur in the midst of pandemic-driven austerity. We’ll need to mobilize to protect people from evictions, as we did at Dean Street. But in order to really fight all of these attacks, we’ll need to unite the Black Lives Matter movement, the movement against evictions, and the labor movement to fight against all attacks against the working class and oppressed. We’ll need a united movement like we haven’t seen in decades to defund and abolish the police, stop all layoffs, end evictions, and guarantee housing for all.