Data for Progress: We Need to Cancel Rent During the Coronavirus Pandemic, Writes Senator Michael Gianaris

Originally published in Data for Progress on March 31, 2020.

Everyone knows coronavirus will exacerbate our housing crisis. We need emergency relief right now.

America is facing an unprecedented public health crisis which will soon become an unprecedented economic and housing crisis. With rents due April 1st and jobless claims expected to pass 3.5 million this week, we could see millions evicted from apartments, homes foreclosed upon, and small businesses permanently shuttered – leaving even more people out of work.

New York is the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis and we are taking serious measures to stem the bleeding. Governor Andrew Cuomo has done a commendable job managing this crisis, including by issuing an executive order halting evictions and foreclosures for 90 days. But this isn’t enough – many New Yorkers live paycheck to paycheck and do not have three months of back rent saved.

New legislation I introduced last week would suspend and forgive rent payments for residential and small business tenants for 90 days, as well as provide some relief for small property owners. This has received an outpouring of support, nearly crashing the State Senate website over the weekend. According to Data for Progress’ surveys conducted with The Justice Collaborative, suspend and forgive programs enjoy broad public support: 76% of poll respondents indicated support for some version of suspending and forgiving rents for residential tenants. Few policies receive this level of public support: 83% of Democrats are behind it, and even 72% of Republicans are in support.



Data for Progress puts critical data behind suspending and forgiving rent, but let me put a human face on it. My office has had its voicemail filled by people telling their own stories. A freelance arts teacher, who does not receive sick leave or traditional unemployment, let me know that with all her classes now cancelled she has no income and cannot pay her bills. Another caller, a hair salon owner, lost all their personal and business income.  They fear losing both their apartment and salon – and their livelihood for years to come.

There is a moral imperative to #CancelRent. Thousands, if not millions, of New Yorkers are on the financial brink. We often say many New Yorkers are just a paycheck away from poverty. The time has come where the paychecks have stopped coming. We need to take urgent and critical action now to suspend and forgive rents for people who are in need of assistance during the pandemic.

What can we do? I am working to garner support in the legislature to pass my bill – and I am excited to have nearly two dozen Senate cosponsors of the bill and support in the Assembly. The Governor could also, if he so chooses, enact such a policy through executive order. We need people to keep being active voices – call your elected officials and express your support for this policy. Working together, we can deliver the critical relief people need at this difficult time. 

Senator Mike Gianaris is the Deputy Majority Leader in the New York State Senate.

Check out poll results at Data for Progress.