Several Queens elected officials joined Make the Road New York’s (MRNY) calls for Albany to prioritize legislation they say will ensure working and immigrant communities receive the protections they need amid the ongoing pandemic.
MRNY, the largest grassroots and immigrant-led organization in the state, held a virtual event to outline their “Respect and Dignity platform” for this year’s state legislative session on Thursday, Jan. 21.
The platform consists of policy demands to ensure a “recovery for all,” including raising taxes on the wealthy, funding excluded workers, canceling rent, repealing the “Walking While Trans” law, passing the Solutions Not Suspensions Act to combat the school-to-prison pipeline and expanding immigrants’ access to health care.
“Given the ways that the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated immigrant, Black, Brown and transgender, non-conforming, intersex, queer communities [TGNCIQ+], our platforms leads with core demands for a recovery for all,” said Angeles Solis, a lead organizer at MRNY. “Hundreds of thousands of workers are excluded from receiving state government relief and are struggling to pay rent and put food on the table. This is a reality our members know far too well, 280 days into a pandemic.”
Several of MRNY’s members shared their personal stories about why the policies are a necessity.
Esperanza Camano spoke about living in unregulated housing and thus being at risk of eviction after her and her partner lost their jobs due to COVID-19. Juana Alvarez said she’s relied on food pantries during the pandemic because she was excluded from federal and state economic relief, although she’s worked in various jobs for the last 30 years. Nazario Reyes said he is battling cancer, but because he has no health insurance, he sometimes has to wait until he is in critical condition in order to seek care.
A number of laws to address those and more issues have already been introduced, such as the Fund Excluded Workers bill, sponsored by Jackson Heights Senator Jessica Ramos’ and Manhattan Assembly member Carmen de la Rosa, that would tax billionaires in order to establish a fund to provide emergency income for immigrant workers and families in need.
MRNY is also supporting the Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act of 2020, a bill sponsored by Brooklyn Senator Julia Salazar and Manhattan Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou, as well as Salazar’s “Good Cause” eviction bill.
The state Legislature passed one of the nation’s strongest eviction moratorium, but the protections for tenants and some property owners is not automatic, according to THE CITY. The state also created the COVID Rent Relief Program, a one-time rental voucher for qualifying tenants that is paid directly to landlords.
Salazar said the $100 million rent relief program would only help about 50,000 renters.
“There are millions of tenants across the state of New York and tenant households who have reported they’re unable to pay rent as well property owners who are unable to pay their mortgage, regardless of whether they have tenants or not. So we know that there is more that we need to do,” Salazar said.
She added that they need to provide “comprehensive relief to the people who are struggling the most” rather than “providing bailouts for the corporate landlords or for the banks.”
“We need to be providing immediate relief for tenants by canceling rent and also for property owners by forgiving mortgage payments for the duration of the pandemic and for additional time to allow people to recover, because it’s just not reasonable to expect people to pay their rent or their mortgage when they’ve lost income,” Salazar said.
Newly appointed Astoria Assemblyman Zohran Mamdani said that, as someone who used to work with Black and Brown homeowners who faced eviction in Queens, he supports Salazar’s “Good Cause” eviction bill.
“What really excites me about this piece of legislation is that it has an exemption for one- to three-unit live-in property owners, and so for so many people that we’ve been told this will actually negatively impact, it will not actually change their living situation and frankly will help them fight off the corporate dislocation and real estate purchases that have been happening all across our city and state,” said Mamdani.
MRNY also wants to bolster bills by the Bronx State Senator Gustavo Rivera and Manhattan Assemblyman Richard Gottfried that would allow undocumented individuals access to health insurance.
Many Queens lawmakers signed on to support MRNY’s Respect and Dignity platform, including Senators Ramos, John Liu and James Sanders Jr. as well as Assembly members Mamdani, Catalina Cruz, Jessica González-Rojas, Ron Kim, Nily Rozic and David I. Weprin.
“I support Make the Road’s agenda, as do many of my colleagues here,” Liu said. “It’s an agenda that’s even more so necessary because we have already seen a lot of actions from federal and state and local government, but unfortunately those actions have left out many, many New Yorkers, particularly in the immigrant community, and this is where we really do need to step up.”
Cruz, who sponsors the EMPIRE State Licensing Act, said she hopes many of the current issues impacting the immigrant community will end this year.
“I hope next year we won’t have to talk about these issues again, and have Norma telling us her story, that we won’t have to again talk about having to aid tenants so that they can survive — because this is now about survival — that we won’t have to talk about the necessity for something as basic as health care or access to health care for so many people,” Cruz said. “I hope that now that we have the majority in both branches, we have no more excuses.”
One of MRNY’s priorities, repealing the “Walking While Trans” law, is moving forward in the state Senate and is expected to pass the upper chamber within a week, according to the New York Daily News.
Advocates for the repeal have said the current law has led to discriminatory police enforcement and harassment for many members of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly for immigrant, Black and Brown individuals.
Manhattan State Senator Brad Hoylman, the bill’s prime sponsor, said he “feels good” about finally passing the legislation, which currently has 37 Senate co-sponsors, during MRNY’s virtual event.
MRNY member Norma Ureiro, who spoke about unjustly being targeted and once arrested by police, said she’s “thrilled” that the Senate will vote to repeal the “Walking While Trans” law.
“For more than 40 years, Black and Brown transgender woman like me have been harassed, profiled and arrested for expressing our gender identity in public,” Ureiro said. “The ‘loitering with the intent for prostitution’ (P.L. §240.37) statute is sexist, racist and transphobic. Once, my boyfriend and I were arrested under the penal code 240.37 for simply walking together and holding hands, and until this day I still carry the scars and fears of the interaction with the police and the unjust arrest. But today I am excited that we will be able to provide protections to future generations of transgender women, reduce the interactions with police and violence against trans women of color.”