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Emergency Response to COVID-19: What Our Communities Need Now

March 17, 2020

While All New Yorkers Are Impacted By Covid-19, We Must Recognize & Swiftly Address the Needs Of New York’s Most Vulnerable & At Risk Communities

The reverberations of the global human and economic loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic will be felt at the local level, from block to block. Historically marginalized neighborhoods and communities will be most acutely impacted and left particularly vulnerable. In New York, low-income communities of color and immigrant communities will face the brunt not only of the medical crisis that is upon us, but also the growing economic crisis in the form of evictions, mounting debt, job loss, and community disinvestment. The spread of COVID-19 has exposed the long-established gaps in our social infrastructure. These inequities are not new, but will be laid bare and felt more intensely than ever before. A crisis of this scale requires a commensurate and comprehensive response. It is the responsibility of federal, state, and local governments to act swiftly, strategically, and boldly to minimize the catastrophic economic and social consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. We call on our government - at all levels - to act decisively to give everyone the ability to do their part without the risk of losing their jobs, homes, and their very lives.

 

ANHD calls for the following policies to be undertaken immediately: 

Issue a Moratorium on Evictions and Pass Good Cause Eviction

We commend the state of New York for passing a moratorium on commercial and residential evictions, closing housing courts across the state indefinitely. This was the right thing to do and a major victory for New York’s strong tenant movement. A permanent moratorium on evictions without good cause must also go into effect - the legislature should pass good cause eviction immediately. 

Freeze Commercial and Residential Rents

Although New York State has put an indefinite moratorium on evictions, residential and commercial tenants should not have to worry about paying rent on reduced incomes while they attempt to provide for family and loved ones. One recent survey found that 39% of New Yorkers would be unable to pay even 1 month of rent if they were to lose their income. All rents should be frozen for the duration of the crisis. Government should provide immediate financial relief for impacted tenants who are facing hardship and unable to pay their rent. Nonpayment of rent due to hardship from loss of income or revenue due to COVID-19 should not be considered a breach of contract or lease. 

Extend Residential Rent-Regulated Leases 

New York State Homes & Community Renewal (DHCR) should implement a one-time, three-month extension for all residential rent regulated leases. This action ensures that tenants remain protected under their current leases and ensures rent regulated tenants who are eligible for lease renewal during this crisis do not suffer the added strain of rent increases.  

Temporarily Suspend Mortgages and Issue a Moratorium on Mortgage Actions 

Banks and creditors should not be able to profit off of struggling commercial and residential tenants, homeowners, and small businesses. All mortgage holders should temporarily be prevented from collecting payments - including interest - during this time. All mortgage actions, specifically foreclosures, should be halted. 

Provide Emergency Support for Affordable Housing Developers 

In addition to suspending mortgage obligations, city/state/federal government should provide emergency financial support in the form of grants, interest free loans, and tax abatements to non-profit affordable housing providers so that they can properly maintain their buildings in the absence of rental income for the duration of the crisis. 

Rehouse the Homeless in Hotels and Motels, and Address Overcrowding in Impacted Residences 

Homeless New Yorkers are by far the most vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. In order to protect the lives of the 92,000 people living in crowded shelters or on the streets, the City and State must take immediate measures to rehouse people in empty hotels and motels. This is crucial to preventing the further spread of COVID-19. 

The City and State should also utilize hotels and motels to quarantine impacted individuals who live in overcrowded residences or in close proximity to vulnerable population or essential service providers. New York City experiences overcrowding at more than two and a half times the national crowding rate, with 8.8% of households living in overcrowded homes. These residents are very likely to spread COVID-19 to loved ones and neighbors living in close proximity. The City and State must give the option of voluntary quarantine in currently underutilized accommodations. 

All rehousing facilities must be dispersed equitably by need across all five boroughs in high-wealth and low-income neighborhoods. Low-wealth neighborhoods, especially with high densities of service workers and frontline healthcare staff, are already at high risk of contracting the virus; rehousing facilities should not be concentrated in these neighborhoods. 

Reduce Utility Payments 

As more people are being ordered to stay home, they are becoming increasingly dependent on water, electricity, gas, and the internet to survive and stay connected. New York State should order telecommunications companies to cease shutoffs while the outbreak is ongoing and schools and workplaces are shut down. The State should also urge all utility providers to cease payment collection for low-income households. 

Implement Financial Protections for Small Businesses 

The closure of restaurants, bars, and other small businesses will result in a devastating loss of income for owners and employees of small businesses, particularly immigrant-run small businesses, which comprise 48% of New York’s local economy. NYC Small Business Services (SBS) is already offering zero-interest loans to businesses with fewer than 100 employees and grants to businesses with fewer than 5 employees to cover a portion of payroll costs. The grant program should be expanded, as businesses will face difficulty in repaying loans after several months of reduced income. All relevant information should be provided in multiple languages and available to small businesses that would not traditionally be eligible for SBS and/or government aid. A portion of this aid should be available to street vendors. The state and federal government should also invest in grants to small businesses to help them provide paid and sick leave to their employees, and offset the loss in revenue that will come from the shutdown. 

New York City should mandate that delivery service operators cap their delivery fees and suspend NYPD fines and summonses on delivery personnel and street vendors. 

The State should waive all late penalties for late sales filings for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, due on March 20th, for all small businesses, including vendors. 

Issue a Moratorium on ULURP Processes 

We commend the de Blasio administration for suspending the entirety of the ULURP process for the duration of the crisis. The Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) is intended to allow public review of major land use actions, but this is dependent on an engaged public, with the ability to organize and testify. The ULURP process must be halted until this crisis has passed, and residents and stakeholders have the ability to be engaged.

Provide Emergency Fiscal Support for Non-Profits 

Non-profits and community-based organizations - including many of ANHD’s members - function as a social safety net in many communities, providing essential services like food, childcare, language access, and more. Many already struggle to cover operational costs and pay employees as they provide these services. Non-profit organizations providing essential services should receive emergency fiscal support. Non-profit organizations providing non-essential services should be eligible for grants based on the organization size.  

Fund Universal Paid Sick Leave, Childcare, and Unemployment Insurance 

Workers must be encouraged and compensated to take the full time needed for care and recovery, either for themselves or family members. Government must provide at least 3 weeks of paid emergency sick leave and at least 3 months of paid family or medical leave, with no exemptions for companies based on their size.  

Unemployment insurance must be expanded and enhanced to ensure financial support to laid-off and furloughed workers. Independent contractors and subcontracted workers - including domestic workers, gig economy workers, and home health workers - must be captured within these expanded provisions. Unemployment must be expanded in particular for tipped workers whose regular income is not adequately captured. 

Free childcare centers for the children of those still working should be established in schools, libraries, or other public facilities. Childcare workers at these centers must have access to the paid sick leave benefits described above. 

Suspend All Debt - Including Student Loans, Credit Card, and Medical Debt 

People should not have to choose between paying for vital necessities and paying their debt, or risk going into financial distress after a reduction in income due to closures and quarantines. All debt payments must be suspended - including student loans, credit cards and medical debt. This must apply to principal payments and not just interest payments alone. 

Issue a Moratorium on ICE - Ensure Immigrants Can Safely Access Healthcare and Services 

Immigrants cannot access healthcare if they are in fear for their safety and the safety of their family. If ICE continues to make arrests during this crisis, it will be harder to stop the spread of the virus and the health risks for everyone will increase. All ICE activities must cease, and detainees must be released to ensure equal opportunity for immigrants to receive the healthcare and support they need. 

Issue a Moratorium on Low-Level Arrests & Other Criminal Proceedings 

Putting people in cages increases our public health risk and the likelihood of major outbreaks occurring in prisons, jails, and courthouses. Now is the time to reduce our incarcerated populations by moving vulnerable individuals out of our jails. New York City must impose a moratorium on low-level arrests, and state legislators must resist efforts to roll back bail reform, ensuring our incarcerated population does not grow. 

End Medicaid Cuts and Provide Free COVID-19 Testing and Care 

Our public health insurance system is crucial during this public health crisis. New York State must eliminate the Medicaid “global cap” and ensure that everyone eligible for Medicaid continues to receive treatment. As many people as possible should be tested in order to ensure proper treatment and stem the spread of the virus. No one should have to pay for testing or be billed for any medical care they receive to treat COVID-19. 

 

How Will We Pay For This? 

Many of these policies are costly and will significantly shift the manner in which funding and resources have been allocated and prioritized. A crisis of this scale requires a proportionate response that prioritizes marginalized communities who are facing the brunt of this crisis. While the federal government has invested trillions of dollars in big business, government at all levels has an obligation to invest in the economic and physical well-being of those most impacted by structural inequities that have been exposed by COVID-19 - in particular immigrants, low-wealth communities, Black communities, and communities of color. An appropriate response to this crisis requires an equitable distribution of resources. 

Tax the Rich to Pay for Public Health Services 

Adequately addressing this crisis will require the expansion of health services and other parts of our social safety net. We can easily pay for many of these critical public health and safety supports by taxing the wealthiest Americans, on a state and federal level. New York State should enact the following taxes: 

  • Billionaire Wealth Tax - A yearly assessment on the speculative wealth of billionaires, including unrealized capital gains. This tax could raise $10 billion or more per year.  

  • Ultra-Millionaire Income Tax - The creation of higher income tax brackets for individuals making over $5 million, $10 million, and $100 million per year who are currently taxed at the same rate as those making $1 million per year. This tax could raise $2.2 billion per year.  

  • Pied-à-Terre Tax - Taxing vacant luxury apartments that are not used as a primary residence. There are more vacant luxury units than there are homeless people in New York City. This tax could raise over $500 million per year. 

  • Sales Tax on Stock Trades - New York’s stock transfer tax is currently rebated back to brokers. Ending this rebate could raise up to $13.8 billion per year. 

An unprecedented crisis requires unprecedented and immediate action. While all New Yorkers are impacted by COVID-19, we must recognize and swiftly address the needs of New York’s most vulnerable and at risk communities. Policies that ensure the health and safety of the most marginalized New Yorkers ensures the health and safety of all New Yorkers. 

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