Steve Kitezh, a renter in New York, feels relatively privileged for the situation he’s in. He has a good relationship with his landlord, and he approves of the way he runs his building. Even so, he’s well aware that there are countless renters in the City who aren’t so lucky.
“I have a good relationship with my landlord; he really is a nice person, and runs a good building,” said Kitezh. “But I’m concerned for those people who don’t have that siatuation going for them. It’s a terrible thing to have no place to go, and it’s very hard to rent anything in New York City, in any of the boroughs.”
For this reason, Kitezh has joined a grassroots campaign to pressure electeds to give New York tenants the relief they need in this time of crisis.
Last Monday, the Manhattan Young Democrats (MYD), in collaboration with the Four Freedoms Democratic Club (FFDC), organized a letter-writing session to urge lawmakers to support rent relief and extend the moratorium on evictions the duration of the pandemic.
The event took place over Zoom on Monday, July 6 at 7 p.m. During the event, the hosts coached attendees on how to write their letters. They also provided them with three letter templates tailored for State Senate and Assembly officials, congresspeople and Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), respectively.
“[Electeds] are always looking for personal stories to use,” MYD Secretary Jordan Stein told attendees. “They love it when you put just a little bit of yourself into that letter. A lot of times, when I have a form letter to send, I’ll add a sentence at the beginning explaining why I care about this issue.”
When the pandemic first began, the FFDC sent out similar letters to state and federal officials. The letters demanded that they secure rent relief for tenants and small business owners who have lost income as a result of the pandemic.
Since then, our lawmakers have made some effort to address the issue. The New York State Legislature enacted a $100 million rent relief program, and Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) instated a temporary moratorium on all evictions. However, MYD and their allies insist that those aren’t enough – especially since the moratorium will expire on Aug. 20.
Ben Wetzler of the Manhattan Young Democrats said that his day job has him interact with people who face the threat of eviction on a daily basis.
“Professionally, I’m a policy analyst; it’s my day job when I’m not doing the political stuff,” said Wetzler. “So I end up having to, one, see a lot of scary statistics, particularly those taken from when COVID was starting. But also, every once in a while, I’ll have to interact with people who are coming to the State for relief, and are having trouble with their housing situation. It’s always the worst possible thing for me to say, ‘Hey, it’s not really my job to help you; you’re a statistic to me.’ So being able to take some free time to advocate on their behalf is very important to me.”
However, Wetzler clarified that he doesn’t want evictions to be suspended indefinitely; rather, he thinks that such measures will only be necessary to help tenants survive the current crisis.
“I don’t think we’re saying that landlords should eat it forever,” said Wetzler. “But in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic and recession, the cost should be shared between the landlords, the tenants and the public. We don’t want to have a homelessness crisis, an eviction crisis and a pandemic all at the same time.”