‘Housing is a right’: Tenants hold protest calling for eviction courts to remain closed through end of 2020

People at the Cancel Rent protest
Photos by Miriam Quinones

“Cancel rent” and “close the courts” were chants heard this morning outside of the Bronx Housing Court as activists and residents gathered demanding the cancelation of rent.

Facing the looming eviction crisis, tenants held protests in the Bronx and Brooklyn calling for eviction courts to remain closed through the end of 2020.

The eviction moratorium in New York does not protect many Black and brown tenants who were hit hardest by COVID-19. Moreover, many of those people are part of the gig economy, work for cash, undocumented and can’t prove financial hardship.

Leaders and members of Housing Justice for All, Right to Counsel NYC Coalition, tenants at risk of eviction in New York City and Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA) were among the groups there.

“It’s not a coincidence that we are near the Bronx Housing Court known as the eviction mill for landlords,” said CASA Leader Fitzroy Christian. “Governor Cuomo and elected officials have failed to protect New Yorkers during this pandemic.”

According to Christian, the recent Tenant Safe Harbor Act is “rubbish.” The Tenant Safe Harbor Act prohibits the issuance of warrants of eviction and judgments of possession for nonpayment of rent during the COVID-19 period, which began March 7 and ends when all businesses closed by executive order are permitted to reopen, if a tenant has experienced financial hardship during this same period.

However, the fact that the eviction courts are now open and already seven people are facing being homeless since July 1, many in the Black and brown communities are worried, he said.

“Human lives are more important than property,” Christian said. “Human lives are more important than profit.”

Marta Burgos, a paralegal with the Legal Aid Society, has seen firsthand what housing court does to the Black and brown community. If rent is not canceled and there is no eviction moratorium, the streets will be filled with people, Burgos explained.

“I am a witness to the fact that this court always functions at the expense of people of color,” Burgos said.

Burgos noted housing court frequently mistreated the elderly and disabled.

“The court punishes people for not being able to attend court for disability,” she said. “This court makes it very easy to our vulnerable elderly people on the street.”

Aldo Resendiz of the South Bronx Tenant Movement was furious with the governor. After dealing with thousand of Bronxites dying from COVID-19, he said that tenants should not have to fear eviction.

Resendiz explained people are prioritizing health and food over paying rent and questioned how landlords could still demand money when they know millions are still unemployed due to the pandemic.

“Governor Cuomo isn’t just complacent with the killing of Black and brown lives, but also complacent with the systemic displacement and torture of Black and brown families,” Resendiz said. “Cuomo is not here to protect the interests of poor Black and brown people. He is out here protecting the interests of blood sucking capitalist landlords. We’re not asking, we’re demanding you cancel rent.”

Nora Kenty of Legal Services Staff Association, one of the organizations that helps people in housing court, was fired up this morning

According to Kenty, the average landlord owns 21 buildings in NYC, so she finds it hard to believe they are hurting for money.

“Why should landlords get the bailout at the expense of working New Yorkers,” she shouted. “People are literally dying and they’re worried about their profits. Let people stay home. Housing is a necessity. Housing is a right.”