If someone is out of work thanks to the coronavirus crisis and can’t pay the rent or mortgage, what can they do?
The situation is changing rapidly so what works today may not apply tomorrow. Already 29 percent of New York City residents have lost their jobs, according to the latest weekly survey from CUNY of 1,000 locals taken March 20 to March 22. And those numbers are likely to climb as business closures and work slowdowns due to government mandated social distancing and illness ripple through the economy.
Elected officials and others are scrambling to prevent mass evictions and foreclosures, which would only intensify a growing public health and economic crisis.
The Crown Heights Tenants Union has heard from members who fear they will not be able to pay their rent April 1, including a taxi driver, an airport worker who is being laid off from his job at JFK, and three roommates who all lost their jobs, said member Sara Duvisac.
A 90-day state-mandated halt to evictions took effect Friday. Lenders have also been ordered at the state and federal level to suspend mortgage payments for at least 90 days to homeowners who can’t pay because of COVID-19. The missed payments will be added to the back of the mortgage, extending its time period, without credit reporting, fees or interest.
Homeowners in danger of missing a payment should reach out immediately to their lender online rather than by phone because of recent staff reductions, according to the Housing Policy Council, a group of lenders whose members include JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Citigroup. The group is working to streamline procedures so lenders are not overwhelmed and requests can be quickly processed, in many cases without requiring immediate proof of need. “And finally, it is critical that we continue to message that all those who can pay their mortgage, should pay their mortgage,” reads the group’s COVID-19 statement on its website.
But temporarily stopping evictions is not enough to bail out renters, housing advocates said. Tenant groups are calling for a statewide halt to rents during the crisis, measures to ensure landlords will not demand back rent and evict people after the eviction moratorium has ended, and direct subsidies to tenants out of work. Some are also in the early stages of planning a rent strike.
“If there is no organized structure, people will be really vulnerable,” said Crown Heights Tenants Union member Joel Feingold.
If a tenant has no work and cannot make the rent, Crown Heights Tenants Union organizers suggest talking to neighbors and approaching the landlord as a group, as well as reaching out to a tenant organization in their area.
Congress is close to a deal to have the federal government pay full salaries to unemployed workers for four months, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer said Tuesday, and direct one-time payments to taxpayers of $1,200 each and business loans are also part of the aid package, The New York Times said today. New York State pols are crafting a bill that will suspend rent payments for 90 days, but Cuomo has not yet weighed in, Gothamist reported Tuesday.
Real estate industry association the Real Estate Board of New York and other groups representing landlords are asking for rent vouchers and property tax abatement. Earlier this week, the Federal Housing Finance Agency said Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will halt mortgage payments for multifamily property owners who suspend evictions for renters who can’t pay rent because of coronavirus.
Help for tenants is “not just for tenants but really a bailout for landlords too,” said Judith Goldiner, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit at The Legal Aid Society. “It helps everybody. It’s in no one’s interest if all these people who’ve lost their jobs now lose their apartments.”
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