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Activist Group Calls For Million-Strong Rent Strike On May 1

Cea Weaver, a tenant advocate in New York for the Upstate/Downstate Housing Alliance

A tenant activism campaign is calling on a million New York renters to boycott rent payments May 1.

After a month of lobbying state lawmakers to institute a rent and mortgage moratorium amid the coronavirus pandemic, Housing Justice for All, the protest’s organizer, is hoping a sea of missed rent will force Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s hand in suspending housing payments, The Real Deal reports

The group has been advising tenants who can't afford to pay their rent to withhold it, Housing Justice For All Campaign Coordinator Cea Weaver said in an interview with Bisnow April 7. 

“No one should have to choose between buying groceries and paying rent,” she said. 

Weaver told TRD this week the campaign will also urge those in buildings owned by landlords with reported ties to Cuomo to not pay rent, though she didn't say which buildings these were. 

In Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Tenant Union plans to lead a concurrent rent strike, calling on the city to forgive all rent and mortgage payments amid the pandemic, according to TRD. 

More than 1.2 million New Yorkers have filed for unemployment since the state’s stay-at-home order was put in place. An eviction moratorium was issued days after the stay-at-home order, but Cuomo has not weighed in on the issue of rent forgiveness. 

This month, 84% of renters nationwide made their rent payments by April 12, 15% more than the number of payments in the week earlier, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council. Landlord advocates told Bisnow that in New York between 80% and 90% of renters had paid on time or in the week that followed. 

Some landlords are calling for rent vouchers to help struggling tenants make ends meet. If a rent moratorium were instituted without mirrored relief for landlords, small property owners could be at risk of insolvency. It is still unclear whether the state can legally order banks to give landlords mortgage forbearance. 

The state is also facing an increasing budget deficit as it continues to fight the virus, so landlord advocates are looking to the federal government as they make plans for Phase 4 of coronavirus aid legislation. 

Meanwhile, the Rent Guidelines Board 2020 Income and Expense Report released Wednesday showed that, for the first time since 2003, operating income for landlords of rent-stabilized apartments decreased last year.