- In an emergency legislative session, the State Assembly and Senate passed an extension of the residential eviction moratorium, suspending proceedings for 60 days and allowing most tenants to apply for relief through May 1.
- A number of new state laws went into effect starting January 1, including an expansion of paid family leave.
- Public Advocate Jumaane Williams will nominate Housing Justice for All coordinator and NYC-DSA organizer Cea Weaver to serve on the City Planning Commission.
- Mayor Bill De Blasio says that the City will administer one million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine by the end of this month.
- Gov. Cuomo issued an executive order raising the penalties on providers that disregard the vaccine prioritization order, which critics say will slow the vaccine’s distribution.
- The federal aid package passed last week includes $4 billion for the MTA, which will prevent the worst layoffs and service cuts proposed even as the agency looks for new sources of revenue amid the pandemic.
- Scott Stringer, Eric Adams, Shaun Donovan, and Maya Wiley lead the race for endorsements in this June’s mayoral primary.
- Max Rose has decided not to run for New York City mayor.
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In-Depth: NYS Eviction Moratorium Bill
Contributed by NYC-DSA Housing Working Group
On December 28 Governor Cuomo signed into law expansive eviction protections for tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic. The legislation is a victory for the thousands of people – including many NYC-DSA members – who have been on rent strike in the past year. It will protect millions from losing their homes by staying all evictions for 60 days and creating a “hardship declaration form” which tenants can use to notify courts and landlords of financial and/or medical hardship and stop all further proceedings until May 1.
Understanding how New York’s renters won an eviction moratorium is instructive, particularly as six active NYC-DSA members take office and as New York faces a State budget crisis of historic proportions.
What Happened in the Final Week Leading Up to Bill Passage
After months of protesting, rallying, and rent-striking, New Yorkers successfully pressured leadership in the State Senate and the Assembly to begin two-way negotiations on eviction protections for a late December special session. These negotiations resulted in the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act, introduced late at night on December 24 and passed four days later on December 28.
During closed-door debate between December 22 and 24, conservative Democrats in the Assembly successfully weakened an initial proposal – shortening the coverage period from July 1, 2021, to May 1, 2021. Also during this time, Governor Cuomo attempted to intervene and extend a weak version of the moratorium via executive order but was ultimately unsuccessful in derailing negotiations in the legislature.
During the six-hour-long public debate on the bill, several prominent Assembly Democrats spoke against the legislation from the right, but ultimately voted for it – notably, Pat Fahy of Albany, a respected member of the conference who is expected to run for State Senate in next year’s Democratic primary. A Republican attempt to weaken the bill from the floor failed despite support from Democrats Aileen Gunther (Orange County), Philip Ramos (Suffolk County), Albert Stirpe (Syracuse), and Monica Wallace (Buffalo).
Some Democrats ultimately voted with Republicans against the bill, including Marianne Buttenschon (Utica), Michael Cusick (Staten Island), Simcha Eichenstein (Brooklyn), Judy Griffin (Nassau County), Billy Jones (Plattsburgh), Angelo Santabarbara (Schenectady), Nader Sayegh (Yonkers), Steve Stern (Suffolk County), and Carrie Woerner (Saratoga Springs).
When speaking against the bill, Assembly Democrats focused on the arguments that, because tenants do not have to prove financial hardship, rich renters will use the hardship declaration to avoid paying rent, and that the legislation would allow well-off tenants to exploit hard-up landlords.
Lessons from the Campaign for an #EvictionFreeNY
Governor Cuomo’s role:
For seven months of 2020, the legislature did not meet; the result was increasingly weak non-moratoriums that came via executive order. On every issue, Governor Cuomo is the top obstacle in Albany. The tenant movement, socialists, and the progressive left can move the Governor by forcing two-way negotiations between Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.
The Real Estate Industry and the Anti-Tenant Narrative:
Real estate-backed opposition wields a narrative of deserving landlords and unworthy renters that has grown significantly since the pro-tenant victories of 2019–an anti-tenant bloc in the legislature is organizing. Even though the tenant movement ultimately prevailed in 2020, this narrative remains a tremendous obstacle to further pro-tenant legislation, namely #CancelRent and Good Cause Eviction.
The anti-tenant argument looks different across New York State. In upstate New York, it follows well-worn racist tropes of deadbeat tenants who lack moral character and take advantage of middle-class homeowners. In New York City, the opposition seeks to drive a wedge between homeowners of color (ostensibly building generational wealth) and white renters (“gentrifiers”) to bolster their case. In both cases, the landlord lobby tries to mobilize sympathetic homeowners to advance the cause of the real beneficiaries of the housing crisis: corporate property owners and real estate speculators.
Leadership in the Senate and the Assembly:
As is typical for controversial, high-profile legislation, the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act was largely negotiated by the staff of leadership in the respective houses – not the legislative bodies themselves.
Neither Stewart-Cousins nor Heastie are inherently progressive legislators; their power rests in their abilities to unite their conferences around compromise legislation and to hold the Democratic caucus together. They strive for this in different ways, and understanding how they do it is key to leveraging supermajorities to move Governor Cuomo.
Andrea Stewart-Cousins has been largely successful at uniting a legislative body with wide ideological differences in a way that is deliberative and internally democratic; Carl Heastie conversely runs the State Assembly as a top-down body.
More conservative and representing a homeowner district himself, Heastie has at times used more conservative (and upstate) members of his conference as cover for not supporting progressive housing legislation, like good cause eviction. But it is a sign of strength for the progressive left that, despite opposition from leadership, we are able to set the agenda and force the passage of legislation – like this eviction moratorium – that right-wing Democrats are unwilling to vote for.
This January, NYC-DSA members in the Assembly will join a large group of progressive, pro-tenant legislators including Assembly Members Yuh-Line Niou, Linda Rosenthal, and Diana Richardson. At the same time, they will join a body with a vocal (and organizing!) group of right-wing Democrats – a group that is perhaps more ideologically aligned with Assembly leadership. How our members in office learn to negotiate these dynamics and move Speaker Heastie towards more progressive stances will be key to our organization’s legislative success in Albany.
Our legislators in Albany are only as strong as the movement that puts them there. In the coming weeks, NYC-DSA has the opportunity to activate tenant associations, mutual aid networks, and branches, and to speak to thousands of our neighbors about the hardship declaration form; by doing so, we can deepen our base to fight for more transformative housing solutions, like Senator Julia Salazar’s bill to #CancelRent. If you’d like to get involved in those efforts, join the Brooklyn Housing Working Group on Monday, January 4, for our first meeting of the year.