Queens lawmakers, housing advocates urge courts to issue a moratorium on evictions amid coronavirus outbreak

Queens lawmakers and local housing advocacy groups are urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Chief Judge Janet DiFiore to institute a moratorium on all evictions to protect the most vulnerable amid the coronavirus outbreak and state of emergency in New York.

A letter addressed to Judge DiFiore and signed by 24 state senators, including Queens Senators Michael Gianaris, John Liu, Jessica Ramos, and Leroy Comrie, is requesting the courts to institute the evictions moratorium immediately, citing precedents of 9/11 and Superstorm Sandy.

“Permitting evictions to continue will unnecessarily and unreasonably increase health risks from COVID-19 for New Yorkers,” the letter reads. “Many individuals and families who are evicted from their homes will be forced to live in public spaces, in shelters, or in other temporary and often precarious circumstances — limiting their ability to self-quarantine and increasing their exposure to others.”

Manhattan Senators Brad Hoylman and Brian Kavanagh are also introducing a bill to “provide protections against evictions and foreclosure during a state disaster emergency,” Hoylman announced on Twitter on Thursday, March 12.

The call to action began with a petition created by Upstate/Downstate Housing Alliance (or Housing Justice for All), a coalition of advocacy groups including Make the Road New York, VOCAL New York and Citizen Action of New York, among many others.

The petition, which has collected more than 10,000 signatures in less than three days, not only called for the evictions moratorium but also to “immediately freeze rents, and institute a moratorium on utility shut-offs in New York state.”

“Energy is a medical necessity for many, but it is not uncommon for New Yorkers to have to choose between paying for rent, medicine, or utilities,” the petition reads. “Shutoffs and energy insecurity have a huge potential to exacerbate the crisis and endanger public health.”

They emphasized the government must invest in a New York Homes Guarantee in order to prevent further illness and loss of life, as the pandemic puts the more than 80,000 homeless New Yorkers at a greater-than-average risk of exposure to the virus.

Major cities like Los Angeles and Philadelphia are considering the same measure.

On Thursday, Miami-Dade county’s police announced they are “temporarily suspending all eviction activities until further notice” due to their state of emergency declared by Mayor Carlos Gimenez, according to the Miami Herald.

Ridgewood Tenants Union (RTU) said New York needs to follow in their footsteps. “We must to do the same now, that power lies in your sanitized hands,” RTU wrote on Twitter.

House Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez has stated that the federal government should consider eviction freezes as well as “measures on mortgage relief,  “pausing collection on student loan debt,” “extending medicare and medicaid coverage to all,” “no-strings UBI programs,” “eliminating work requirements for SNAP and other assistance,” and “humanitarian provisions in prisons and decarceral policies.”

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Public Advocate Jumanee Williams have also said they agree with an eviction moratorium.

According to Politico, Deputy Mayor Vicki Been told reporters on Thursday that the city is “in discussions with the court system about what we could do under different kinds of authority.”

The New York City Housing Authority has placed a one week moratorium on most evictions, according to New York Curbed.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said he’d want to freeze evictions and urged those faced with loss of income to contact Human Resources Administration.

Friday afternoon, Gov. Cuomo wrote on Twitter that he asked the Department of Public Service to “direct utilities not to cut off service to any person who hasn’t paid their bill as a result of the coronavirus situation.”

“No one should face losing their electricity or gas or water because of this public health emergency,” Cuomo said.